Dear Readers: Because of syndication scheduling, I write and submit my columns two weeks in advance of publication. Due to this time lag, the Q and A’s will not reflect the latest information about the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic we are currently facing.
Dear Amy: For years before my dad died, he repeatedly told his four adult kids that he would leave his (small, rundown) family home to Brother 1.
Sister and I agreed with him, as this brother had need of it (low-income, with children) and the rest of us didn't.
Brother 2 was livid and hasn't spoken to us for three years. (By the way, he is wealthy — owns a boat, enjoys multiple vacations each year, has a $20,000 racing bike — and had no need for the home.)
Fast-forward to now. Brother 1 (now in the house) has a seriously ill newborn baby. I flew home from Europe, sister traveled across the country to be there.
We did school runs, grocery shopping, etc. to allow my brother and his wife to spend time in the hospital. (The baby is still in the hospital, but is getting better.) Brother 2 — who lives 15 minutes away — did nothing. He sent a short text message when my brother and sister told him about this health crisis, but no phone call, no offer to help — nothing!
I respect Brother 2's wishes, and I try not to judge him. Maybe there were issues between my dad and him that I know nothing about. Yet I am astonished that even a gravely ill newborn baby didn't elicit a different response.
Now I am starting to judge him. I think that he's just a jerk and not worth a moment's further thought.
I don't like having something akin to hate on my heart. Am I missing a way forward here?
— Confused Brother
Confused Brother: One way forward would be for you to reach out in a more proactive way, where you would be hopeful of receiving some clarity, while remaining realistic about a murky outcome.
You could send an open-ended communication: “Hey, I’m in town with Graham and his family. Their little newborn is still in the hospital. Can we talk while I’m here?”
Your brother will either not respond at all, or he will wait until just before you leave the country and then give you a brief, noncommittal response. Then you can ask, “Are you okay? Is there something going on that you could tell me about?”
He may respond to these nonjudgmental queries in a way that gives you more to go on. When people withdraw and don’t explain why, it is tempting — and easiest — to jump to the harshest conclusion. You can certainly write off your brother as a selfish jerk, but you might as well wait until you have at least tried to connect.
Dear Amy: A former co-worker has moved into my area and wants to have a friendly relationship with my husband and me.
We had lunch one time and my husband and I were uncomfortable with the conversation.
Politically, this person is very conservative and vocal. We are not.
We have had no contact for many months until yesterday when I received an email saying they would like to get together "sooner rather than later."
How can I tactfully decline and not hurt their feelings?
Wondering: Many months after seeing you one time, this person has reached out and expressed the desire to get together at some point. They are not issuing a specific invitation or even asking a question, but basically putting out a vague feeler.
If you don’t want to forge a relationship, you can start the distancing process by not replying to this email quickly. Wait a few days and then respond with a noncommittal, “I’m so happy spring has finally sprung! I hope you’re doing well and adjusting to life here.”
If they issue a specific invitation, you could respond by saying, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think that would work out. I wish you all the best, but we don’t seem to have much in common to build an active friendship upon.”
Dear Amy: I was so cheered reading your previous "Best Of" column devoted to the stuffed animals from childhood that many of us have carried with us through life. Coincidentally, this column was published on the day that news of the coronavirus pandemic broke. It comforted me during a tough time.
Comforted: I wish I still had my childhood “Teddy.”