DEAR AMY: My husband and I were the primary caregivers for my mother-in-law. His sister moved out of state and came for visits during the summer and the holidays, but would not help with the care of her mother.
We were the ones who fielded emergency calls and saw to her needs. I did the cleaning, laundry and grocery shopping. I would help her bathe. We also took care of our grandchild part time and helped my own mother.
After my mother-in-law passed away and it was time to empty her house, I told my husband there were a few kitchen items that I would like to have. I put four items I wanted onto the kitchen counter.
My sister-in-law showed up, took one look and said, “Those are mine,” and took them!
I looked at my husband and he said, “Don’t say anything.” He doesn’t like confrontation, and I am the type of person who would rather say something and clear the air.
Now he gets upset when I don’t want to see, talk or have anything to do with his sister.
I told him that I feel that it was a slap in the face to me that she took these kitchen items I wanted and he stayed silent. I feel I am justified to feel this way, and my husband says to let it go. Am I wrong? — Angry
DEAR ANGRY: You get to feel however you feel. However, at some point, you should work on resolving your feelings in order to move forward and not stay in this angry and bitter place.
You and your husband are both right. Given his nonconfrontational temperament, it was unrealistic for you to expect him to speak up during this stressful moment.
You say you are someone who likes to clear the air, and so it is your job — not his — to clear it. You should convey to your sister-in-law verbally or in writing, “I was very disappointed in your behavior after your mother’s death. She meant a lot to me, and I was a devoted caregiver to her. I don’t think it was too much to ask to take a few kitchen items as keepsakes. I’m upset at your choice to take these things.”
After expressing yourself, you should do exactly as your husband suggests, regardless of her response. “Letting it go” is for your sake, not hers.
DEAR AMY: My mother-in-law gave me $75 to pay for my birthday dinner at a restaurant (she was not able to attend the small gathering).
I didn’t thank her right away and was going to thank her the next time that I saw her. She called me and said she was upset that I didn’t call her right away to thank her.
Is it proper for her to do that? Does she have the right to make people thank her? I think she is being controlling.
Maybe I was wrong in not calling her right away, but I think she is out of line. What do you think?
DEAR CONTROLLED: Your mother-in-law isn’t forcing you to thank her. She is saying she was upset that you did not thank her. If stating your own feelings, (“I’m upset ...”) is controlling, then how is someone supposed to express herself?
You should “Golden Rule” this one. If you had made such a generous gesture to someone else, wouldn’t you be disappointed if you hadn’t been thanked?
It takes two minutes to pick up the phone to thank someone for her kindness.
In addition to being flat-out polite, you inspire more generosity and goodwill when you express your gratitude.
DEAR AMY: The letter from “Desperate” broke my heart. This person wanted advice on how to get a family member to “stop drinking himself to death.”
Unfortunately, I know from personal experience what you said in your answer: No one can get someone else to stop drinking; you can only support their efforts to get clean.
— Been There
DEAR BEEN THERE: Al-anon helps to clarify this dynamic. And having this knowledge can help.