Friends fill void left by family

Dear Annie: My husband and I moved to another state following our retirements. We moved to a resort town six hours away from my brother “Billy” and his wife, “Patty.” We encouraged them to visit, but they gave one excuse after another. Billy said that they were “just homebodies” who don’t travel.

My husband, “Bob,” has been quite ill. In the last year, he was hospitalized six times and had to be ventilated five times. Billy was aware of my husband’s condition but did not once call or text to offer support. I thank God for our friends who supported us.

Recently, I found out that Billy and his wife had flown to our aunt’s home for a visit, 1,500 miles away. They lied by omission. Then Patty texted me a few days ago, asking if I wanted them to come sit with me. Seriously?! Where were they the nearly 20 weeks Bob was in critical care? She thought he was still in the hospital, though he has been home for eight weeks. I know being here during his illness and hospitalization would not be fun, but I would have done for them.

And then there’s my aunt. We have always been close. When I told her I had given the doctor permission for Bob to be placed on a ventilator, she said, “Are you sure you are doing what Bob wants?” Bob and I had that conversation several times, and each of us knows the other’s desires on this subject. How dare she ask such a thing?

I am trying to forgive them for their ignorance, but it is hard. I have asked the Lord to have patience with me, because I can’t tell myself I forgive them without meaning it. — Bent but Not Broken in Missouri

Dear Bent: Your family dropped the ball. Thank goodness for your friends. My advice would be to focus on what your friends have done for you instead of what your family hasn’t. Gently steer your feelings in the direction by keeping a gratitude journal and writing down five things for which you are grateful each morning or night. When we fill our hearts with gratitude, there’s less room for anger.

I’m not saying you don’t have a right to be angry. You and your husband have had an incredibly difficult two years. But it seems really important to you to resolve this conflict, consider giving them another chance. They’ll never be able to change what they did in the past, but perhaps they’re trying to change the future: Patty finally reached out. Take her up on the offer. Don’t be afraid to have a heartfelt conversation about how much you would have liked to have seen them.

Lastly, I encourage you to seek out help in the form of counseling or a caregivers support group. The hospital staff might be able to help connect you. I know you are bearing a heavy burden right now, but no matter what, you do not have to bear it alone.

(Send your questions for Annie Lane to dearannie@creators.com. This column is syndicated by Creators Syndicate columnists. Visit the website at www.creators.com.)