Carolyn Hax: Relative becomes reluctant messenger for ailing nephew

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Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My nephew has Stage 4 kidney cancer. When I tell family and friends, most of them ask questions, then tell me to tell him he’s in their thoughts and prayers. Although I think that’s nice, I really feel they should tell him themselves rather than asking me to pass messages.

That’s not personal and puts me in the position of keeping track of many messages. A text, call or card would be welcomed by anyone who’s very ill. It makes me feel like telling people to tell him themselves. Is there a way to say this without being rude?

Anonymous: I’m so sorry your family is going through this.

To people who ask you to deliver messages, just say thank you for the kind wishes. You really don’t have to follow through. If it feels appropriate in the moment, though, you can also say: “He loves to receive cards and texts directly. Do you have his contact info?” That way, they can either accept his info and ideally get in touch, or if they feel put on the spot, they can say, “Oh, yes, I have it, thank you,” and easily save face.

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Sites like CaringBridge exist to solve this problem, where your family can make information available to people who care about your nephew, and you won’t have to feel the weight of bearing such messages for others.

· Please, if your nephew is okay with it, give his contact info to the people asking you about him. I have a large extended family, but when I was going through cancer treatment last year, they mostly connected with my parents, and I felt isolated and forgotten.

The optimistic take is that these friends and family are supporting YOU, by telling you that your nephew is in their thoughts and prayers. So perhaps sift out who is supporting you vs. who is truly interested in connecting with your nephew, and go from there.

Dear Carolyn: I’ve told my husband I want minimal contact with his mother, and he’s leaving me out of all family news as a result. His uncle died, and he didn’t tell me anything. “I thought you didn’t want anything to do with them?” he said. He is effectively punishing me for dropping his mom. I didn’t drop all of my extended family; I’m just limiting my exposure to ONE toxic member. And my husband is helping her keep on gatekeeping. How do I get around them both to have relationships with the good and decent members of my extended family?

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Reduced Contact: You’re not asking how to have a healthier marriage? Because that’s at the root of everything here: the petty, punitive [bleep] your husband is pulling and your apparent assumption that it’s normal or okay.

To answer your direct question, the way around them both is to keep in touch directly with the family members you like. Your life, your phone, your business.

But that’s not going to go well, nor will much else, until you and your husband are able to communicate like adults. He sounds like a perfect candidate for refusing to go to therapy, but request it anyway, and go without him to your own therapist regardless. Hard to see room for you between apple and rotten tree.

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