Brotherly Calamity

21 Apr

Dear LetterBalm: We’re in a family crisis and need help. I’m 49 and the middle child of nine kids. One of my older brothers married a nasty woman none of us like. Several years ago, she had a stroke and now requires full-time care. He gave up a decent job and apartment, and, for the past two years, he and his wife have been camped out on the couch at my mother’s apartment. One of my younger brothers lives with our mom, and he’s fed up. (His name is on the apartment lease.) He’s put them on official notice, giving them 45 days to get out. My elderly mom is in the middle because she doesn’t want to rock the boat, but she’s exhausted from taking care of two extra people, one with special needs. Our family has extended lots of help to our brother and his wife – referrals from our social-worker sister, applications for affordable nursing homes and apartments, and money. Nothing is making our brother move or look for another job. How can we resolve this?

–Collectively Fed Up

It’s a shame that one sibling is holding the rest of the family hostage and may soon be on the street with a health-challenged wife. Your brother could be depressed, which may explain why he’s turning aside offers of help and in denial about the seriousness of his position. He probably sees the rest of the family as more settled and successful (with likeable spouses) than him. Ms. L.B. says the family has to make one more effort, letting him know that help is available, but on no condition will he and his wife be allowed to crash at a sibling’s home. If he refuses, he and his wife are on their own. The two closest siblings to your brother should first work up a loving but unbreakable script. Take him out for a quiet coffee on neutral ground and don’t lose your composure, even if he is unmovable. The talk might go something like this:

Leonard, the whole family is concerned about you, but things are getting old pretty fast. You’ve refused all efforts to help you and Maddie, and now you find the two of you will be homeless in a matter of days. Bro, you need to know that we love both of you, but under no circumstances will you be able to crash at one of our places when you leave Momma’s apartment. It’s just not going to happen. You have a wife with serious health issues who requires more care than you can give her. Do you really want her on the street? For her sake, if for nothing else, listen to the ideas the family has come up with. If you argue with us or get stubborn, we’ll have no choice but to leave you on your own. We really don’t want it to come to that, but the situation is in your hands.


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