Q. My sister (in her early 40s) was diagnosed with cancer. They caught it early, so it’s still at an early stage. We in the family all found out about this a few weeks ago.
I have messaged her and her husband a few times since then to chitchat, but never asked them about the cancer.
I feel like if they want to talk about it or need my help, I will be there. It is understood by everyone in my family that we will help each other if asked.
My sister and I haven’t spoken for a week, and I found out from my other sister that my brother-in-law called me rude and not supportive because I didn’t offer to help.
I have two young children, and the younger one was constantly sick. I also work full time and am dealing with a dying father-in-law.
I don’t have the memory capacity or time to follow up on them all the time. Was I being rude?
A. You were being rude, and you ARE being rude.
Even if yours is a family that considers illness to be a private matter — your sister has cancer. It is incomprehensible that you would learn of this, initiate contact with your sister to “chitchat,” and then never mention it.
Your sister and her husband also did not bring it up, but they knew you had an awareness of their situation and were no doubt expecting you to at least inquire.
You say you can’t be supportive because your sister’s cancer is trumped by other family issues. This is even more baffling, because if you have experience dealing with illness, surely you realize that the comfort doesn’t come from offers of “help,” but from having people at least acknowledge the challenging situation illness presents.
In the course of your messaging, what does it cost you to type: “Oh, Sis, I heard about your cancer. Thank goodness it was caught early. I’m thinking of you. . .”?
All of your reasons for not doing this come off as justifications after the fact. You should apologize and offer some sisterly support.
Q. A husband calling himself “Stuck” described his wife’s anger and constant negativity and the impact on him and their sons.
This woman might have a thyroid disorder or be feeling the effects of menopause. She should see her doctor.
A. Many readers responded with theories about underlying conditions as possible causes of this woman’s abusive behavior. I was most concerned about her husband and children, who bore the brunt of her rages.