Dear Annie: When friends fill void left by family
Dear Annie: My husband and I moved to another state following our retirements a few years ago. We moved to a resort town six hours away from my brother “Billy” and his wife, “Patty.” We encouraged them to visit, but they gave one excuse after another. Billy eventually told me that they were “just homebodies” who don’t like to travel.
My husband, “Bob,” has been quite ill. In the last year, he was hospitalized six times and had to be ventilated five times. Billy was aware of my husband’s dire condition but did not once call or text to offer any support. I thank God for our friends who supported us through visits, calls, messages, emails, prayers, etc.
Recently, I found out that through a friend that Billy and his wife had flown to our aunt’s home for a visit, 1,500 miles away. They lied to me by omission. Then Patty texted me a few days ago, asking if I wanted them to come sit with me. Seriously?! Where were they the nearly 20 weeks Bob was in critical care units? She thought he was still in the hospital, though he has been home for nearly eight weeks. I know being here during my husband’s illness and hospitalization would not be fun, but I would have done it if they had been in our position.
And then there’s my aunt. She and I have always been close. When I told her I had given the doctor permission for Bob to be placed on a ventilator, she said, “Are you sure you are doing what Bob wants?” Bob and I had that conversation several times, and each of us knows the other’s desires when it comes to this subject. How dare she ask such a thing?
I am trying to forgive Billy, Patty and my aunt for their ignorance, but it is a long arduous process. I have asked the Lord to have patience with me, because I can’t just tell myself I forgive them with my whole heart without meaning it. I won’t have true peace in my heart until I do. — Bent but Not Broken in Missouri
Dear Bent: Your family dropped the ball here. Thank goodness your friends picked it up. My advice would be to focus on what your friends have done for you instead of what your family hasn’t. Gently steer your feelings in the direction by keeping a gratitude journal and writing down five things for which you are grateful each morning or night. When we fill our hearts with gratitude, there’s less room for anger.
Now, I’m not saying you don’t have a right to be angry. You and your husband have had an incredibly difficult two years. But as it seems really important to you to resolve this conflict with your family, consider giving them another chance. They’ll never be able to change what they did in the past, but perhaps they’re trying to change how it is in the future: Patty finally reached out. Take her up on the offer to come for a visit. Don’t be afraid to have a heartfelt conversation with her and Billy about how much you would have liked to have seen them sooner.
Lastly, I encourage you to seek out help in the form of counseling or a caregivers support group. The hospital staff might be able to help connect you with the latter. I know you are bearing a heavy burden right now, but no matter what, you do not have to bear it alone.
“Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie” is out now. Annie Lane’s debut book — featuring favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette — is available as a paperback and e-book. Go to http://www.creatorspublishing.com for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane to firstname.lastname@example.org.