Dear Amy: Six years ago, after a reunion with my husband of 30 years, his mother, his two sisters and a brother-in-law, one of the sisters wrote me a heartbreaking letter.
In it, she enumerated all my mistakes as she perceived them, said that I do not contribute anything to the family, and said that she and the rest of the family despise me.
She admitted that I have a wonderful marriage, even though she did not understand how that was possible.
The letter felt so toxic, so vicious, and so unreal that I shredded it right away. But its effect has lasted.
It showed signs of different writing styles and voices, so I’m pretty sure more than one person has contributed to it.
My husband’s mother has since died. He and his sisters talk on the phone a few times a year and communicate on social media, but we have not been visiting.
Suddenly, after six years of silence, the sisters-in-law have started sending me birthday cards and messages as if nothing had happened. They say they want to get together.
I’m fine not having a relationship with them. It does not include expecting an apology. Nor do I apologize for all the perceived mistakes I was accused of so many years ago.
Is the letter something to be swept under the rug and forgotten? Am I being unreasonable? Since my husband does not care in one way or another, am I so okay to maintain my silence and distance?
Or should I forgive and forget?
Still in a dilemma
Dear dilemma: These in-laws have opened a door and I suggest you go through it.
You are already happily alienated from them, you do not expect anything specific from them (good for you), but at this point you may receive a clarification or explanation of this choice they made six years ago, which continues to bother you.
And then – ask about it! You can respond to an offer of contact by saying, “I am completely confused. Six years ago, I received a letter, signed by you, clarifying all my mistakes. It also said that your family despises me. I accept that. completely. If anything has changed, tell me. “
There is a remote possibility that you will receive an answer that is authentic and surprising.
Most likely you can expect something along the lines of: “Wow, that was no problem. I can not believe you took it so seriously! “
If so, you will know that it is the wisest way to keep your distance.
Dear Amy: I think it’s a big task, but I ask for your thoughts on how to process the experience from the last few years.
I am overwhelmed by all that grief, division, distortion, and loss, and I wonder if the pandemic has scarred me permanently.
I’m curious about your view on this.
Dear distressed: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to try to solve your very big question.
In response, I feature two of my favorite modern philosophers: Viktor Frankl and Dolly Parton.
Frankl, a psychiatrist, was imprisoned in the Auschwitz concentration camp, where all his captured family members (and over 1 million others) were murdered. He survived.
His important book on this experience, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” (current edition: 2006, Beacon Press) offers indelible lessons on resilience.
Basically, Frankl’s belief is that people can find meaning and motivation to endure through suffering by unlocking their sense of purpose and by developing a rich inner life.
On to Dolly, who said, “Storms cause trees to take deeper roots.”
At one point, we in North America seem to have absorbed the belief that life should be easy for us.
It is not.
The pandemic experience has certainly connected us with other people through time who have experienced war, famine, trauma and displacement.
It’s hard, but it’s not the worst.
Personally, you may see your scars as proof that you cannot heal or you may come out wounded but determined to grow.
I say suffer with your scars; they are proof of your humanity.
Dear Amy: Many people suggest that those who are isolated or alone during the holidays should volunteer.
It sounds like a good suggestion, but organizations are being inundated with requests to volunteer around holidays. Many need to pre-screen and train volunteers, which is time consuming.
But for the rest of the year, especially in the winter, many such organizations really need more volunteers.
Maybe you could suggest it?
Dear volunteers: Absolutely! Thank you.
You can email Amy Dickinson at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a letter to Ask Amy, PO Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.