Category Archives: Relatives

Feeling Judged

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My family is not particularly close. My brother and sister haven’t
spoken in decades for reasons I understand. I speak to both, though I
enjoy my brother and tolerate my sister. He and his wife just
relocated. They’re about seven hours away by car and a half-day by
plane, as opposed to across the country. I see plenty of them on Face
Book and when we play cards online, but have no particular interest in
spending a week or even a weekend visiting. It’s not just their two
slobbery dogs. We don’t share enough to strengthen the relationship
and we are both fine the way it is. I have a new friend, whom I like in
most respects, but she is very judgmental about how my brother and I
relate. She comes from a very large and close-knit family. How can I
convey that our family values are just fine for us?

Feeling Judged

 
Dear Feeling Judged:

The opening of Anna Karenina is cited in psychology as much as
literature: Happy families are alike. Every unhappy family is unhappy
in its own way. Your family has found a way to be happy that is
different than her family. If it works for you and your sibs, it is
intrusive and rude for her to suggest that your family be like hers.
But it does raise the issue of what happens when we make new
friends. We get very used to being ourselves. When we connect with
new folks, whether it is through dating or a social friendship, we tend
to exchange stories about our lives and history through which others
learn who we are. We cannot control their opinions (except perhaps by
shading or concealing information) but we can control how we let their
judgments affect us. She may have questions about your sibs that are
worth considering. But if she is respectful, she will accept your
answers as right for you. If not, she may not be the right friend for
you.

Sober and Gentle

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Do you have any good advice for dealing with the drunken relative at a
family party? This time it is Thanksgiving, but next month will be
Hanukkah, and next year will be two B’nai Mitzvah’s, so this is a
problem we need to face, and believe me we are a family what is
adept at doing everything but facing things. We have an uncle who is
angry, depressive, and alcoholic. He starts off as a sullen drunk but
the more he takes in the noisier and angrier he gets. We’ve tried
everything we can think of, but virtually every family event we can
recall has him storming out in a huff and the rest of us looking at one
another in dismay. Is there a gentle way to avoid this?, short of not
inviting him, which is always tempting but highly impractical, given the
memory of our deceased mother.

Sober and Gentle

 
Dear Sober and Gentle:

In eons past, or in multi-generational families, the burden of delivering
the hard message would fall to the eldest cogent patriarch, who would
with all solemnity sit the offender down, explain what rules of
propriety have been broken, suggest appropriate penance and
apologies, and all would be well, or at least the ground rules would
have been made clear. In this day and age there is no such traditional
model to fall back upon, so everyone has to become empowered to
speak truth to the offender.

 
Short of a full intervention, the message might get lost. In this case
my vote would be for a team of adults, say the parents of the B’nai
Mitzvah children plus one older yet generation adult if such a person
has any authority to invite the uncle to a meeting. Say the family has
lived with his rude behavior too long and they have decided to set
limits. If he will go into treatment, they will support him emotionally.
But in or out of a formal program, at the first sign of disruption he will
be immediately escorted out of the event. If he can comply for
holidays before the BMs, he will get an invite. Otherwise he will not,
and the rule will apply from this moment forward. At the very least
you will get his attention.

Earplugs?

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Please help me with the strategy for Thanksgiving, which is coming up
faster than I think I can handle. My sister, with whom I’ve always had
a very good relationship, is married to a jerk, not to put too fine a
point on it. He’s a lawyer. He’s double rich: he comes from money and
he’s earned a lot more of it. He serves on the temple board, the
boards of various nonprofits, and is a partner in a firm with his name
on the letterhead. He is convinced, convinced to the point of absolute
unreason, that his opinion is right on every subject, from child rearing
to presidential politics. And he will be first, last, and loudest to tell you
why he is right and you or anyone else is wrong. It’s not so much that
I disagree with him on everything, but that I cannot abide the way he
needs to have the last word and put everyone else down in order to be
the most right. Help. Short of not attending a family tradition do you
have a way of coping that won’t end up in acrimony, a bloody nose, or
lots of apologies.

Earplugs?

 
Dear Earplugs:

Earplugs sound tempting even to me, but the bounds of propriety and
your relationship with your sister suggest that donning them is not a
good idea. I’ll assume for the moment that there are other relatives
invited, and that their response to your brother-in-law, perhaps more
mitigated, is similar to yours. I’m not suggesting you start a gossip
war, but if you could find at least one ally you could divvy up the
range of topics and tag-team him in terms of who responds and rebuts
first, and last. That way there is no specific antagonism between you
and him. The more allies, the more you might succeed, the way a
swarm might befuddle a larger predator.

 
You might also take your sister aside before the event, and tell her
how troubling her husband’s behavior is. It’s hard to believe she’s
clueless or indifferent, given that she likely sees lots more of it than
you do. Ask her what works, and how she feels it’s OK for you to
respond if you disagree with him. If worst comes to worst simply leave
earlier or go into the kitchen for a side conversation with a relative you
genuinely like. Once the room he is in is empty, maybe he’ll get the
message.

In the Middle

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My husband is a pretty good sport about how often his in-laws come to
visit. Luckily for him (or perhaps by design), his sales job often means
he is travelling when they are around, so I get lots of family of origin
bonding they get lots of quality time with the grandkids, and none of
us have to put up with his obvious discomfort around them. He is
Jewish while they are not, and though I never thought of them as
bigoted, I am uncomfortable with how often they ask “How do your
people do such-and-such” which they do regardless of how often I
have asked them not to. Our firstborn is turning eleven so they have
had plenty of time to learn. This trip he will be in town the whole time,
and I am looking for ways to keep the peace. Ideas?

In the Middle

 
Dear In the Middle:

Any household with extra guests is surely in need of additional errands
to be run, to the grocery for example, which would get your
beleagured hubby out of the house. If your son is eleven he might
already be in training for his B’nai Mitzvah, and you could consider
inviting the in-laws to services. I suspect they would decline but it
would make the point that this is a Jewish family, not just an outsider
who married their daughter.

 

 

I recommend that your husband take the kids with him on some of the
errand runs, and to a movie, miniature golf, or just to the gym or the
mall. Keep it civil and do your best to retrain them. Bigotry is ugly the
closer you get to it.

Second Fiddle

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I come from a big and generally loving family. The only time we sibs
(two gals, two guys) have problems is with competition, as in who
gives what gifts to parents, etc. But every year my sister tries to
upstage me at Passover. We have a family tradition of alternating first
and second nights. When she goes first she puts on such an
ostentatious display that my Seder feels small and average. She says
she cooks everything herself but I’m convinced she’s used a deli.
When she goes second she makes a point of outdoing whatever I have
done. It sounds petty, but if I make one dessert she makes two; if I
make two, she serves three. My brother is single and never has to
host. I know he loves us both, but he knows how competitive she is
and always compliments her profusely. It shouldn’t bother me but it
does.

Second Fiddle

 
Dear Second Fiddle:

Annoying relatives are one of life’s challenges. Silly or not, it’s clearly
gotten to you. A lifetime of sisterhood should have taught you that
you’re unlikely to change her personality. You could create a lot of
tension in the family by trying, but why? Instead, get into the true
spirit of Pesach and try to modulate the game. It won’t be as satisfying
in the short run, but in the longer one, you’ll be happier. Plus your
family will be more in tune with what the holiday is really about.
Bonus: if you master this lesson with your sister, other people will
have a harder time getting under your skin.

 
Passover is about liberation from mitzrayim. For the moment, consider
your personal mitzrayim to be a vulnerable ego and your sister’s
vanity. Since you’re not going to beat her at her own game, move the
goalpost. Instead of buying into perpetual one-upswomanship, strive
for simplicity, piety, and a hamish sense of family and warmth.
Compliment her for what she does well. Smile. Dig deep for sincerity.
Match it with your simplest best. Sparkle where it counts, from within,
and liberate yourself from this annual plague.

Descendent

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Recently I went to a Yon HaShoah service for the first time. My family
has a complicated history. My great-grandmother was hidden during
WW2 with a Catholic family by her parents. All her living relatives
perished and for most of her life she did not tell anyone, including her
Catholic husband, that she was really Jewish. After his death, she
gathered her children (among them my grandmother), and told them
that she would not ask them to change how they lived their lives, but
to honor her own family, she would ask them to tell their own children,
when they felt the children were mature enough to handle it, about
their heritage to honor the memory of her departed and to keep
knowledge alive. I know in a world of increasing globalization,
intermarriage, and more complex identities that my story isn’t all that
unique. But I grew up not knowing much about the Holocaust and I am
not much of a history buff. Can you recommend some books that can
educate me please? I started with the movie Shindler’s List and that
was eye opening in a horrible scary way.

Descendent

 
Dear Descendent:

I have a ritual that I do every year for Yom HaShoah to honor the
many relatives on both sides of my family who were murdered. I think
it is a great place for you to begin, but be forewarned, for a very slim
book it carries a huge punch. Go to a bookseller or library and find a
chronicle of the Holocaust called The Seventh Well by Fred Wander, a
French Jew who was in 25 different work camps. That and Night, by
the social justice advocate Elie Weisel, are my two favorites for
intimate portrayals of day to day life in concentration camps. Another,
far more cerebral but very much about the 20 th century post-war
diaspora, is called The Lost, by Daniel Mendelsohn, a Yale humanities
professor, who tracks down survivors of a small Polish town that a
deceased great-uncle was from.

 

 

There is a wealth of Holocaust literature, movies, art, and memoir. It
is very easy to feel overwhelmed, because the scale of murder and
suffering was so great. In addition to educating yourself, be sure to
think about other people you know who might not have the same
family history but might be as ignorant and innocent as you might
have been without what you learned about your family. We must all be
vigilant to avoid allowing the rise of contemporary anti-Semitism, in
Europe but also right here in America, to create conditions where
being targeted simply because of one’s religion can be seen as
anything other than repugnant.

Afraid

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My Uncle Hal and my Great-Aunt Sarah haven’t spoken for six years.
It’s a war of shrill and nasty remarks more than live ammunition, but
noisy and distracting all the same. I am not sure they can even
remember what originally started it, but with so many mean things
said about each other to so many people, their feud has taken on a life
of its own. They are both so sure they are right that if you even
suggest there is a middle ground they act like you are a traitor. I am
getting married in two months. I do not see how I can’t invite both of
them, but the idea of how they could ruin the day gives me a stomach
ache. My fiancé thinks I am exaggerating and makes Hal and
Sarah jokes, so I have no help on that score. What should I do?

Afraid

 
Dear Afraid:

You could resolve the whole issue by ending the engagement, telling
your fiancé that his refusal to credit your knowledge of family history
makes him ineligible to join the meshpoche. But that’s probably more
draconian than you’re willing to be and means tossing out the good
because of the bad.

 
If you don’t want your wedding turned into their sideshow you are gong to have to
get their attention. Tell each of them that their acceptance card must include a
check for some hefty sum ($1,000?) made out to the other one. Based on their
behavior at the wedding, you will decide if their check gets awarded to their rival
or returned. Their appearance at the event is contingent on agreeing to your
terms, or else they can stay home and you’ll cheerfully explain their absence to
the rest of the family. Unless they decide to gang up on you, in which case
eloping sounds wise, you should be able to enjoy your wedding and get the last
laugh.

The Good Daughter

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My brother is addicted to pills, though will just get drunk if that’s all he
has. He has now lost her room in the house she was staying and her
fourth job as a nursing aide in a year. He relocated to my city to live
with our other, who is in the last stages of a terminal blood disorder,
though Mom has already outlasted the doctor’s predictions by almost
two years. Two points: (1) Mom is not supposed to drink, but often
they do that together; (2) David is “exhausted” from the move, and
wants to “take a month off to recuperate” before he looks for work. I
think he should not get a vacation but start putting out resumes today,
but both of them loudly told me off and said I was being “controlling
and judgmental.” I’m the responsible daughter who has to pick up the
pieces when they break things. Is there any way to avoid this train
wreck?

The Good Daughter

 
Dear Good Daughter:

In a word: No. You can try to ban alcohol from the house but addicts
always find a way to get their fix until they get clean and sober. You
can try to scare your mother with mortality, but if she’s already past
the doctor’s predictions she probably figures she can do as she
pleases, and who knows, maybe she is right. But it sounds like the
codependence will not help your mother as much as your brother.
Regarding the proposed vacation, your suggestion makes sense to me,
unless he needs the month to prepare for a pee test that would likely
be required to get a job. But even so, getting his resume together and
sending out letters and applications seems like a basic reality check to
reinforce the idea that he is there to help your mother, not live off her.
It might help to start with optimism when you speak to them, even if
you get heartburn and grit your teeth. But short of a miracle I think
you will be in this soap opera for a while.

Buttinski?/Not

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have a niece to whom I am very close. She has had three
miscarriages this year and just announced that she is “giving up” on
attempts to have a baby. I know she is under a lot of stress at work,
and that she and her new husband, who is a wonderful parent to her
eight-year- old from marriage number one, would be fantastic parents.
But their lives have been so overwhelmed with selling and buying old
and new houses, with work, and with attempts to get pregnant and
deal with the medical aftermath and the grief, that I think the odds
have been stacked against her. What can I say to help her realize that
it’s just too soon to stop trying?

Buttinski?/Not

 
Dear Buttinski/Not:

If you are truly “very close” and a regular confidante, you have the
right to talk to her about things that some couples might consider their
own private business. Timing matters, and so does tone, so you should
choose both of those very carefully. I’d suggest inviting her for tea and
talk. Start by telling her how concerned you’ve been about their very
hectic year, how much you love her new husband, and how happy you
are that her new family is blossoming, despite the setbacks with her
miscarriages. Encourage her to give the possibility of another child
another six-twelve months, after her life has settled down. And keep
telling her you love her and that when she is less stressed out, nature
may respond differently.

Seeking Family Fun

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m a nerdy middle-schooler who’s more into people than gadgets,
clothes, or social media. My parents got divorced five years ago when I
was in elementary school. Now they’re okay around each other, after
they each married another divorced person. Surprisingly, I like them
all. Holidays are complicated because of how many places everyone is
trying to get to. I like my new siblings, half-siblings, cousins, etc, but
it’s usually too hectic for any quality time. I was trying to think of an
idea for Hanukah that could help us be more of a family instead of a
crazy, jumble of busy people who I think might like each other if they
stopped running around and actually spent time together. Can you
help?

Seeking Family Fun

 
Dear Seeking:

Holiday gift-giving offers the perfect opportunity to accomplish your
goal. While you might not be able to get everyone together as often as
you want, you should be able to initiate a series of activities that will
generate energy and establish precedent for family fun. Get yourself a
stack of construction paper, some markers, glitter, and access to clip
art. Then design a series of gifts/invitations, targeting various
combinations of peers and parents. Your goal isn’t to match the exact
people who will become final participants with the activities you are
going to suggest. It’s to start a family conversation about the value of
playtime together, shared hobbies, adventures, and fun.

 

Think about activities you think would be entertaining and educational
to try together. They can be as varied as entering a family team in a
bowling league to participating in a volunteer effort like a Habitat for
Humanity build. Identify concerts that will happen in the next few
months, classes at the local parks and rec centers, and games that will
bring family together to laugh and bond. Make as many invitations as
you think people can handle. Mix and match who gets what. Encourage
people to trade off the invites, or to join in as many activities as they
want. Bring a calendar and write down the names of who wants to do
what. Then follow up gift-giving with email reminders of which
activities people are coming to, and remind them to put them on their
schedule. The more fun you make this, the more fun will follow.

Eeeek

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m terrified. I’m headed to Detroit tomorrow to have The Talk with my
82-year- old mother. She’s lived independently or semi-independently
her entire life. My father died when she was 50. For the last 10 years
my youngest sister has been living with her, but she’s ready to move
out and make her own life. My sister’s been a safety net for all of us,
making sure her mom took her meds, driving her to appointments
(Mom turned in her own license when she felt unsafe!) and generally
being around so none of us had to fear every ring of the phone. Mom
is intelligent, spry, and relatively healthy. Other than the fact that she
can’t drive she is very self-sufficient. But I know that could change in a
minute, and I live two thousand miles away, as does everyone except
my sister. How can I have The Talk, which every child dreads having
to have, to prepare for the inevitable living-in- a-group- setting, so we
don’t have to make rushed or bad decisions in a time of crisis?

Eeeek

 
Dear Eeek:

There’s no easy way for this one. Everyone dreads it, no matter which
side of the conversation equation they are on. And if she knows your
sister is planning on moving out, you know she knows that The Talk is
part of your visit. So she will likely be apprehensive and afraid, even if
she does her maternal best to hide it. Start out having as good and
casual a visit as you can, at least for the first day or two. Come from
the airport with flowers and plan to take her out for a special one-on-
one dinner. Try to assess how she’s doing without making her feel like
she’s under the microscope. Even if she knows the conversation is
inevitable and looming, she will be on her best behavior. But don’t be
surprised if tears follow. It is going to be hard, but it is important and
necessary to do.

 
Take the role of her advocate, as in: Mom, how do you want to handle
the future? What’s your idea of the best and safest way for you to live
after [sister name] moves out? Then listen. Don’t confront her, and
avoid pushing her into a place of resistance. She might surprise you by
saying she is ready, or that she knows a move is inevitable. Most likely
she will argue that it should be deferred. Listen to her arguments one
by one; see what makes sense and what doesn’t. Ask her if she’ll
come with you to one or two of the closest and best assisted-living
facilities that perhaps, God willing, one or more of her friends is
already living in. Help her see the better points about them and also
help her recognize that if she has a health crisis she could end up
somewhere far less optimal, and that planning is a far better process
than making a bad decision later.

 
You have a lot of homework to do to pull off the eventual transition.
Your local sister will be a big help in getting the house packed up and
decluttered. But you need to carefully assess financial resources,
weigh options, and learn about waiting lists and long-term treatment
options. There’s a big difference between an independent living
situation, and a facility that offer progressive “step-down” options
when your mother begins to fail. Assume that this process will take
three to six months and try to work with your local sister to keep her
involved. But the nest thing you can do is to make sure your mother
knows you love her, and that this is about keeping her safe and
healthy for as long as possible. The Talk should focus on care, not
punishment. Good luck.

Sis

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have a very dysfunctional sister. She is mentally ill though she has
never been officially diagnosed as such. She is a persistent abuser of
prescription drugs, which she manages to steal from work and/or
extract from doctors for various ailments. She’s a nurse, if you can
believe it, though is now working in a limited caregiver capacity in a
group home. Her life has been a declining series of tragedies
culminating in her losing her house. I went up to help her clean it and
move into a one-room rental in a friend’s home. When I saw her for
three days, I witnesed the level of her collapse firsthand. She slept in
till noon while I did all the practical things I could: dealing with movers
and a storage unit. I tried to explain to her how to post her valuables
on Craigslist, and gently alerted her future roommate that “she stays
up late ‘celebrating’”, without saying she is a pill-popping moocher. I
had filmed her with my iphone, high as a kite and dancing like a
madwoman in the middle of the night. I suspect it’s a drug interaction
from her random consumption of pills. She could die or have a seizure,
or she could end up a bag lady living on the street after she loses her
job because she treats the meds cabinet at work like a candy shop.
Also she is a shopaholic. I’ve lived a frugal life and always been a
responsible citizen. I know that some day I will get “The Call.” What
can I do between now and then? I do NOT want to take her in!!!

Sis

 
Dear Sis:

You are not going to be able to stop this train wreck. Your sister is
bound to be caught stealing meds, especially if she has an accident at
work. Just having her working in a group home could endanger the
health and sobriety of residents. One also has to wonder about the
level of supervision of both meds and employees, though turning her
in to her bosses exacerbates and hastens her and your inevitable
problems, rather than solving them.

You need a “come to Moses” meeting with her. You should tell her
everything you have observed, your fears, and, as hard as it may be
to do, your boundaries. I wouldn’t say you had filmed her, in part
because it will make her more cautious around you. But save the file
somewhere, in case you ever need to show a doctor or intervening
authority. You could threaten to tell her supervisor about her drug
habit if she will not voluntarily enter a program like Narcotics
Anonymous, go to regular meetings, and provide some kind of proof of
attendance. You should also insist that she meet with a financial
advisor, the type that helps people downsize debts, and put some kind
of long-term plan into action, including cutting off her credit spending.
Lastly, as hard as this may be to say, you need to tell her you are not
her final or financial safety net. Say that if there were an emergency
you would find her a group home but that you and your family cannot
do more. Suggest that she make plans with other family members who
may be more flexible or wealthier. Though she is unlikely to heed
much of this advice, you will have entered a new phase of relating,
and have had a conversation that you can reference as needed. But
ultimately, she will come to your door.

Daughter in Law

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I do not want you or your readers to hate me or think I am an unkind,
unfeeling, or horrible person. But I have lived in a small world of hurt
for the past sixteen months, after my mother-in- law moved in our
home, making it and my life a living hell. She is mean-spirited, sharp-
tongued, manipulative, nasty, ungrateful, unhappy, and generally
unpleasant. I have tried being solicitous, kind, friendly, helpful and,
when that failed, have occasionally tried to be more withdrawn,
leaving my husband to take greater responsibility for her care,
something he tends to avoid, out of a mix of denial, shame, fear, and
generalized reluctance to take care of household chores other than
repairs. She has the usual mental decline of age exacerbated by what
seems to me like selective memory loss, but I have become cynical.
Physically she would probably outlive both of us, especially with the
stress her presence is causing in our home and marriage. That’s what I
thought till last week when she fell, and in the ER was told she had
high blood sugar and needed more careful monitoring.

 

My husband and I had an almost three-week trip on the calendar, planned
long ago and over which we have no control of timing; it is go or don’t go,
leaving in a week. We had planned for in-home care but now have
decided to put her into assisted living while we are gone, so the docs
can get her more stable. The question is this: When we return, should
she stay there or move back with us? My argument: Her ailments are
intermittent but potentially serious; give her better care, which she
can absolutely afford, and give us a chance to remember we used to
like one another. My husband could go visit her daily (he recently
retired). His counter: She’s my mother; she doesn’t want to go there
are at all; it’ll use up our inheritance; I feel guilty. I am past caring
about money that may never come to us but she could use to improve
our lives now by paying to live elsewhere. What say you? Oh yes, PS,
I, who haven’t been sick three days since we married, have had a
series of week or two-week long flues and ailments in the past three
months. I know it is partially stress, but it has cut into my ability to
meet clients and earn our mortgage money.

Daughter in Law

 

Dear Daughter In Law:

Even the kindest, sweetest, most generous of soul and spirit addition
to a household can cause disruption and occasional aggravation. That’s
true when both partners are on board with what’s required for the
daily care and nurturing of an elderly parent. The difficult situation you
are describing, albeit with the relieved joy of a rant to an anonymous
reader, does not seem healthy or sustainable. It’s unlikely to prove a
peaceful and relaxing trip with the Sword of Damocles hanging over
your head about whether or not she returns.

 
When you communicate to her about any or all of this, be sure to
preface every other sentence with Your Doctor Says,…. as the reason
why she is going to assisted living. Be sure the staff reiterates that
medical necessity and her quality of health is the most important
variable that everyone is watching. The question of her return home
should be something that is discussed only in terms of her health and
no guarantees should be made that both you and your husband cannot
agree on.

 
The two of you will need to find a same page to be on. In this
circumstance, one of you is inevitably going to feel like a loser. The
only way of dealing with that is in some mediated forum, like a
counselor, where you can both speak your piece and feel heard. If she
does return to the home, you must be guaranteed time out periods,
perhaps even evenings or weekend time when you visit or even stay
with friends. Even if he uses some of his mother’s money to hire in-
home care, that will help your husband confront the truer impacts of
caring for her, something it sounds like he has avoided. If I were
voting I’d side with you, but I haven’t heard his version.
“For better or worse” sounds like it’s been bad for both and worse for
you, so in my book you have the right to ask for relief, both temporary
and long term. Either that or buy her or you a personality transplant.
And let me know where you found it so I can spread the word.

Hellllllppppp

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have a deadbeat brother. He is 56 and has not held a job longer than
a year for as long as I can remember. He’s a gay man, with which I
have no problem, except that his entire life plan seems to be “finding a
rich, sugar daddy” to take care of him. Personally, as much as I love
my brother, a neurotic, poor, aging, and needy person is even more
unlikely to attract such an escape route than someone half his age,
never mind all the emotional unhealthiness of the plan at all. I just
want him to find a small simple job with regular hours, a regular
paycheck, and maybe even health and dental insurance. I’d like to
help him with the baby steps, but I don’t know how to begin. It’s all I
can do to put up with his whiney ramblings about life being too hard
and unfair. And at the risk of sounding callous, my husband and I have
worked hard for our own small savings, and I can’t risk my own
family’s future to be his ultimate life support, when he hasn’t done
anything to make things better.

Hellllllppppp

 
Dear Hellllpppp:

Every family I know of has at least one sib who is below the norm in
achievement and security. Each other sib has to face his/her
responsibility for helping out in times of crisis, and, like in your case,
helping avert those crises from occurring. If, in fact, your brother is
absolutely unwilling to act on his own behalf, you may someday have
to face the problem of taking him in or turning him away. But between
now and then there’s lots you can do.

 
Identify all social services in his community that he might be eligible to
approach. That’s everything from low-income housing to job training
services. Encourage him to make appointments at each place and find
out what he is eligible for in terms of direct support and assistance.
Work with him to look at social service agencies that work with low-
income people, places that have experiences teaching the realities of
life to those on the short end. If there’s some kind of gay community
center, ask them if they have special programs. Tell him you will no
longer listen to whiney, self-reinforcing, negative phone calls. ell him
to send you his resume when it is drafted, so you can help him edit it.
Ultimately you may have to say, I cannot be your final safety net.
That’s hard to do, but may be what he needs to hear to finally get
motivated.

Feel Taken Advantage Of

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My 101-year- old aunt passed away in February. I was power of attorney and
executor of her estate. I’d helped her after being contacted by social services
when she was in her late 80s, because neither her brother nor her sister wanted
anything to do with her. I was warned to stay away by the family, who said she
was not a nice person. Very insulting, etc. She was my father’s sister, and even
he fought with her constantly. During that time I packed up her apartment and
moved her to a very beautiful, and very expensive, assisted living. She did not
get along with anyone. During this time I drove her to all her doctor, dentist,
gynecologist, colonoscopy appointments. I even had to change her diapers when
we went to some doctors. I moved her again. Same thing, and finally moved her
to a very good nursing home. Eventually she ran out of money. I was told to pay
for a prepaid funeral, as that was required for her to be on Medicaid. When she
died I was out of town. My cousin, who is ultra, ultra orthodox happened to be in
town. She called to tell me that she was taking care of everything. I asked that
she wait, but of course she went right ahead for a quick burial without consulting
me on costs that were not included. Now she wants me to pay almost $300
towards the funeral home and an additional $200 for the stone. I volunteered to
give her $100 and wanted to find out about a less costly stone. Do you think I am
obligated to pay any of these costs? Also when her family comes to town, they
eat like it is going out of style (at the restaurant) and NEVER offer to pay
anything.

Feel Taken Advantage Of

 
Dear Taken Advantage Of:

Your feelings are legit. They are also overdue. Your cousin’s family has
become so used to taking advantage of your generosity and good
nature that they’ve managed to forget your fifteen years of helping
out. My guess is that you have not done a good job of communicating
all that you have done during the past while, and that they got very
lazy and hazy about how things were being taken care of. But that’s in
the past.

 
The fact that your cousin made the arrangements without your
knowledge or consent implies she’s on the hook for all of it. Your offer
of $100 will not placate her, but I would send the check anyhow. If she
complains to the family and you hear about it, just remark quietly, I
wish I’d heard from them as much during all the years I was doing all
the care-taking and shlepping. That’ll end the complaints, and if it
doesn’t, you can still feel good about how you took care of your aunt.