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    Ask Amy

    Uncle wonders why family members are ghosting him

    Q. I grew up with two siblings — a brother and a sister. My brother, his wife and three children lived near our parents. My family and I (wife, two children) lived some distance away. We maintained contact through holiday cards and drop-by visits. Everything was cordial, if not particularly close. In hindsight, all direct interaction with my folks was always at our initiation.

    Sadly, my brother passed away quite suddenly a few years ago. He was still a relatively young man. My SIL still maintained infrequent, cordial contact surrounding major events (kids’ graduating, my father’s passing), but that’s about it.

    About a year ago my SIL married an old flame from college. She moved to his town, some distance away. We lost all contact. It was not just us — she and her children essentially “ghosted” their paternal grandparents, which was a source of great pain for my late father.

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    Strangely, last week I learned that SIL and her daughter (same age as one of my children) had relocated again six months ago. They are now living within 10 minutes’ drive from my house. I guess the previous relocation and marriage didn’t work out.

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    I am trying very hard to empathize with her: Perhaps they just suffered another in a series of terrible situations. But then, why pretend that my family and I don’t exist? Why not make an effort to contact us?

    My wife is furious and considering not giving any more graduation/wedding gifts to the nieces/nephew from this part of the “family.”

    Your advice?

    Ghosted Uncle

    A. I’m wondering why you are ghosting your nieces/nephew. Their father died suddenly. They were relocated to a faraway town for a marriage that turned out to be very short term. Then they moved again.

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    Were you ever a teenager? (I’m guessing at the ages of these kids.) Would you have initiated contact with your aunt and uncle if there had been sporadic contact in the years after a parent’s death — and then no contact for at least a year?

    Your sister-in-law might be depressed, embarrassed, overwhelmed, introverted, or — just doesn’t like you very much. She has done a poor job of staying connected to her children’s relatives.

    What’s your excuse?

    You should reach out through whatever means you have. Express enthusiasm that they are so close, and offer to lend a hand and/or get together.

    Your wife’s idea to punish these children by not celebrating their milestones is — unkind. I hope you’ll both choose to behave differently in order to demonstrate to your nieces and nephew how to be in a family.

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    Q. My longstanding but somewhat ditzy friend sent an invitation to attend her daughter’s college graduation.

    I replied that my husband and I would be honored to attend. She then answered that she had a ticket for me, but not for him.

    I asked her to try to get a ticket for my husband, and if she couldn’t, we would just be joining them to celebrate afterward.

    Amy, I invited this woman and her daughter to a resort weekend to celebrate our 10th anniversary (with us paying for everyone), and she said that her daughter would only come if her boyfriend, whom we had never met, was invited. She offered to pay his way, although in the end we paid for him, too.

    What do you think?

    Perplexed Friend

    A. I think that graduation tickets are sometimes harder to procure than seats aboard space flights. You see this as a rude exclusion, but it is also possible that your friend was both trying to honor you by including you, while also letting your husband off the hook.

    You responded promptly and honestly (good for you), but it isn’t fair for you to link this to your previous generosity, which you offered of your own volition (you could have said no), and which your friend lapped up. Generosity is not a quid pro quo. It should be its own reward.

    Q. The question from “Sleepless and Hopeless” rang a bell. Sleepless is estranged from her adult daughter.

    I am in my mid-40s and estranged from my mother.

    Please tell Sleepless to say her piece in a letter and then do the right thing and let her daughter go.

    Work with a therapist on herself and her issues. Grieve for the daughter she lost.

    If she backs off, the daughter might just process her feelings at her own pace and get in touch.

    Been There

    A. Great advice. Thank you.

    Amy Dickinson can be reached at askamy@amydickinson.com.