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Ask Ellie: Show mother-in-law respect in her final days

Hugs are free. Give them out with abandon. You’ll be amazed at how good you feel.

Dear Lisi: I have endured years of mental abuse from my narcissistic mother-in-law and her daughter, my husband’s sister. Time has passed, and my mother-in-law is in the hospital. My sister-in-law, who is retired and lives in another city, has decided to come in to stay, likely waiting for her mother to pass.

We don’t speak, mainly because my mother-in-law pit us against each other years ago. Now that she is nearing the end, she’s hoping her son, my husband, and her daughter, his sister, will talk. But she created this mess, so I think we should continue on as we have been and just ignore them.

My husband is upset by it all. He’s sensitive and kind and struggling with this, knowing how awful both his mother and sister have been to me over the years.

My husband is not a narcissist, and both his mother and sister are textbook. So, we have often excused their behaviour saying it’s because it’s how their brains are wired. But frankly, I’m fed up. Our kids are all adults now, have no relationship with their cousins and likely never will. The effects of the damage has trickled down and been even more destructive to the next generation.

More than 10 years ago, I reached out to my sister-in-law to ask for her help with her mother’s care. At that time our kids were small, my husband and I were both working and very busy. She married a wealthy guy and never worked. Yet we were expected to care for her mother because she was out of town. She never responded to my request.

Now with mother-in-law in hospital, we visit at inopportune times to avoid seeing these relatives who of course are playing the role of a loving and caring family which they are not.

I have no need to visit further. I grieved the loss of my mother-in-law and her daughter’s family years ago. Is it wrong if I stay away? I don’t even want to attend the funeral.

Fed Up with Family

That’s a sad story, but unfortunately not that uncommon. In short, you must attend the funeral to support your kind and sensitive husband. And you should probably go with him to the hospital too. Be cordial to your sister-in-law and her family. Show your mother-in-law respect during these last days. You’ll feel better about yourself in the end.

FEEDBACK Regarding the newly separated mom concerned about Halloween (Nov. 8):

Reader – “With regards to adult birthdays, I do not agree with you or, in my case, my ex on this topic. I have scheduled celebrations around the times that I have my son rather than require him to pack up his life to be shuttled to a new location for my actual birth date, which becomes less and less important every year.

“I have done literally everything in my power to ease and minimize the challenge the divorce is for my son rather than increase it. It’s not about the day, in my opinion. In a perfect world, sure, but generally, grow up and be the adult your kids need you to be.”

Lisi – You bring home my point in your first paragraph: your birthday is less and less important to you each year, but your ex (and I) don’t feel this way. My birthday is a big deal for me. I LOVE my birthday. I want to spend the day with the people I love. That’s what’s important to me.

Bottom line – we’re all different. Do what works best for you and your family.

Readers Commentary “Your column (Dec. 9) on the value of adults hugging reminded me of a hug I gave many years ago.

“It was at a reunion of colleagues, and as this particular woman came in, I hugged her. She looked taken aback and turned away.

“I was concerned that I had offended her. After a moment I realized she had tears in her eyes. She said that is the first time in months that anyone had even touched her, let alone hugged her.

“She lived alone and was a shy person by nature. Later she told me how much that hug meant to her. She hugged me as we parted.

“We have stayed in touch, and in every email, she reminds me of that first hug and how wonderful it made her feel.”

Lisi – Hugs are free. Give them out with abandon. You’ll be amazed at how good you feel.

Ellie Tesher and Lisi Tesher are advice columnists for the Star and based in Toronto. Send your relationship questions via email:

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