Ask Amy: A widow ponders the source of her bitterness

Dear Amy: My husband was diagnosed with ALS at the age of 67.

About six months after diagnosis, we had a graduation picnic for our granddaughter.

My brother-in-law came, got drunk, and when he left, he banged our daughter’s car and told no one. (We were not aware that he was so drunk.)

My husband called his brother and he admitted that he’d hit her car, but said he was too drunk to return to the party, so he was going to call later the next day.

My daughter called her uncle and lectured him about drinking and driving and was pretty hard on him. I did the same.

He texted us and said he didn’t need to be lectured by us and that we wouldn’t see him again. He said he’d send a check for the damage.

My husband called him and did not lecture him, but said that we were concerned about his drinking. (We had expressed this in the past.)

Over the next two years, he never checked on my declining husband and did not come to his funeral less than three years later.

My children and I are bitter.

When this uncle speaks to his sister, he seems to play the victim — as if we had kept him away from his brother.

My husband died feeling very betrayed, and I can’t shake my resentment.

What are your thoughts on this?

— Bitter

Dear Bitter: I think you have a few things to feel bitter about — your husband’s decline and death from an absolutely punishing and heartbreaking disease, being one.

And yes, it is obvious how disappointing your brother-in-law’s behavior has been, but addiction has a way of blunting a person’s humane responses. It’s as if the disease has to find a way to win, and so alcoholics will quite naturally reject confrontations, course corrections, or even expressions of concern.

And — to be clear — some people are just wired this way, even without addiction’s pull.

Your brother-in-law told you exactly what he would do, and then he followed through.

One way to cope with your bitterness might be to see if you can conjure a way to feel sorry for this man, who denied himself contact with his brother, and who will never be able to make it up to him.

During a quiet moment, ask yourself if this would be possible, and consider the idea that it might ultimately help you to trade your bitterness for compassion.

Because — this much is true — nothing you do will affect the real source of your grief, although releasing this element of bitterness in your life will definitely help.

Additionally, you might ask your late-husband’s sister not to pass along messages of victimhood to you. This just triggers your own sadness and anger, when you might be focusing on healing.

Dear Amy: I’ve been a civil servant for 20 years and married for 11.

Our marriage has mostly been unhappy.

My husband and I have one 10-year-old daughter together and I have an adult child from a previous relationship.

I’m in my late 40s, and since I’m now pensionable, I can retire, move anywhere in the country, and have a whole other career.

The problem is that I’m afraid of change.

I want to supplement my pension by working in another field.

Do you think it’s wise to start over in another state?

I’m worried most about my daughter with the adjustment, but she’s starting middle school and she still doesn’t have any lasting friendships in our small, affluent neighborhood, where we are blue-collar workers.

— Confused

Dear Confused: You don’t say whether any potential move would also include your husband. This is obviously extremely important. If you two break up, you will need to live near one another.

I don’t think it is wise to uproot your daughter unless you have thought through all of the particulars and have a solid parenting plan in place. Look for transitional work closer to home and spend the next couple of years figuring out your next step.

Dear Amy: Thank you for your response to “M,” the hard-working mother who was wondering how to share caregiving duties for her mother-in-law.

I appreciated your suggestion for this family to hire qualified caregiving help.

My siblings and I did this and it was a relief for all of us, including our mom.

— No Regrets

Dear No Regrets: If you are lucky enough to get a good fit in terms of caregiving help, it can be a gamechanger for everyone.

(You can email Amy Dickinson at [email protected] or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)

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