Ask Amy: Angry letter may provoke unintended response
Dear Amy: A few years back, an elderly family member passed away and left a lot more money to my father’s brother and his (second) wife than to other family members. We were never told why, and my uncle and his wife refused to share these funds with us without expecting to be paid back.
Last year my parents both died, and for the last two years or so they were terribly sick and frail and I had to take care of them all the time.
My uncle and his wife live only about a half-hour away. They never offered to help out. They never visited. When my mother died, they did not attend the funeral or even send me a sympathy card.
Well, Amy, needless to say, I strongly dislike these two people (as did my late mother), and I often think of sending them a letter telling them how I feel.
My question is, how can family members be so cold-hearted? Should I send them a letter telling them how I feel? — Hurt and Angry
Dear Hurt: Your deceased family member might have left more money to your uncle than to others because at one time your uncle had loaned or given that family member money. Your uncle (and his wife) might not have visited or had contact with your parents because the money – or another issue – created a rift between your father and his brother that simply was never resolved. (Did your folks want to see these family members? You don’t say.)
That is the true tragedy of family estrangement: it is insidious and generational.
I’m not offering up excuses for their behavior, but an explanation for how complex and twisted estranged relationships can become.
You should definitely write a letter to your uncle and his wife, telling them exactly how you feel. Writing these things down might help you to make sense of your own feelings and reactions.
Should you then send the letter? That depends. You might pour out your own anger and hurt feelings to people who have already demonstrated that they don’t seem to care, who might misread or misunderstand your intentions, and may share it or criticize you to other family members. Those are all possible consequences of your choice.
There is dignity in telling the truth. But there is also dignity in making a private peace with your own painful emotions.
Any letter you send should be simple, declarative, and honest, using “I statements:” “I am sad. I am so disappointed. I wish you had behaved differently during times when my folks needed care and comfort.”
Dear Amy: At gatherings with family or friends, my husband has a habit that I find rude. When someone offers to do something helpful, such as clear dirty plates, he immediately offers to do it instead, jumping up and beating the person to the task.
Often the friend or family member is left looking like their offer of a good deed was just stolen from them, but he doesn't notice.
I know he thinks he's being extra nice for taking away the task, but I think it's rude to jump on someone else's offer of help.
Either come up with the idea yourself, or just graciously say "thank you," when someone else offers to do something for you.
What are your thoughts? — Helpless Helper
Dear Helpless: My thoughts are that there must be more behind your resentment regarding your husband’s attempts to be helpful.
Perhaps he rarely helps at home, and you believe that he only jumps up when others are there to see and appreciate him?
Regardless of your own motivations or reactions, it is not your job to police your husband. And unless there is a more aggressive action and reaction than you describe, I would imagine that some people would actually feel relieved and grateful if someone else jumped up and took over a task.
Dear Amy: “Concerned” wrote to you regarding receiving an annual gift of a fruitcake made by their friend, who had been very sick with COVID previously.
You blew it by not telling them that there is no risk of contracting COVID from food. You should not continue to perpetuate these myths. — Disappointed
Dear Disappointed: Yes, I should have emphasized that there is no risk of contracting the virus from consuming food or receiving packages.
I made the error of believing that this was common knowledge, though it was obvious that “Concerned” was worried about it.
Thank you for prompting this response.