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How Could My Brother-in-Law’s Twin Abandon Him During Cancer Treatment?

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My sister’s husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer last year. Along with his oncologist, he consulted frequently with his twin brother, who is a doctor. They decided he should have surgery, and then an eight-week course of specialized radiation that is available only at a handful of hospitals. His twin lives near one of them, and he invited my brother-in-law to stay with him and his wife in their large home for eight weeks. The day before my brother-in-law was set to drive there, his twin called and said he could stay with them only if he apologized to his wife for a letter he wrote 30 years earlier, shortly after his son died. (My brother-in-law doesn’t remember this letter or anyone referring to it before.) His twin said: “I have to choose between you and my marriage.” My brother-in-law says he understands, but my sister is heartbroken for him. Doesn’t the twin have to keep his word and let his brother stay at his house?

SISTER

Aren’t you overlooking a simpler solution than a showdown over forced houseguests? Your brother-in-law could tell his brother’s wife that he has no memory of the letter. (It was written decades ago, after all, during a painful period in his life.) Still — and this is the important part — he could also say that, if she is willing to discuss the issue, he will certainly apologize for any hurt he caused.

I understand your focus on your sister’s distress. She’s your sister! But neither illness nor prior invitation voids a person’s right to decide who will stay in her home. And it would be a mistake, in my view, to insist that medical treatment or the passage of time requires people to bury deeply held feelings.

Now, we can quibble over what should have happened 30 years ago and how we may prioritize these issues differently. But it’s often wise to take people up on their suggestions about how to resolve conflicts with them. Here, a woman has asked for an apology. If your brother-in-law can make one sincerely, that seems like the best way to secure his lodging and heal his relationship with his sister-in-law, no?

My husband and I pay a woman to clean our home every Thursday morning. She does a great job, and we are pleased with her services. The problem: For the past few months, she has brought her young daughter (who seems to be in her early teens) to help her. My husband thinks we should ask why the girl is not in school, but I think the question is invasive and may make our cleaner — an immigrant of uncertain legal status — uncomfortable. Thoughts?

S.

The Supreme Court held, over 40 years ago, that any child living in the United States is entitled to a free public education, regardless of his or her legal status. Still, there can be tremendous practical and emotional barriers to enrolling a child who is undocumented in school: language issues, for instance, or feelings of vulnerability. If you and your husband want to help your cleaner send her daughter to school, which I applaud, go for it! Otherwise, why are you asking?

My husband and I have lived across the street from an elderly couple for seven years. We maintained a friendly relationship with them until six months ago, when their son (who does not live with them) antagonized us and then threatened my husband. He later apologized halfheartedly, but the collateral damage is that we cut off contact with our neighbors. Now, the husband has died, and we don’t know how to handle condolences or whether to attend his memorial service. Advice?

NEIGHBORS

Question for you: Why do you think the fractious son apologized at all? Probably because his parents asked him to out of respect for your friendship. You haven’t shared the details of your confrontation, and I understand your reluctance to have anything to do with the son.

But your friendly neighbor has just lost her husband. Of course you should make a condolence call and ask if you may attend his memorial service. Have compassion — and perspective! This woman’s loss dwarfs your squabble with her son.

In December, I learned that I was admitted, early action, to my first-choice college. At first, I was stoked. Then I started to feel bad: Many of my friends, who worked just as hard as I had, didn’t get good news. And since Christmas break, I’ve started to feel let down — like the achievement I thought was going to make me feel like a rock star isn’t doing it for me. Do you think this is weird?

SENIOR

First, congratulations on your admission! I know the competition is fierce and your hard work was probably substantial. As for the evolution of your feelings, they are totally natural (in my experience): You are more than your accomplishments, and your friends are more than their disappointments. If I were you, I would set aside the college question for a minute and focus on your connections with friends and others in your community. They will often be more nourishing than achievements.


For help with your awkward situation, send a question to [email protected], Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on the platform X.

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