What is the right thing to do here?

iVillage Member
Registered: 11-21-2003
What is the right thing to do here?
Tue, 09-18-2012 - 4:12pm

Hey everyone. I was hoping to get some input on a situation I have. My dad emailed me today and told me that my brother's wife has thyroid cancer. She has been given a good prognosis and it will be treated surgically very soon. Here's my issue. I am not now, nor have I ever been, close with my brother. In fact, he's really just a stranger to me. He is my dad's son from his first marriage and thus my half brother. He is 15 years older than I and so between age difference and the fact that he went to live with his mom by the time I came along, we didn't grow up together. 

My brother was never interested in having a relationship with me. The only times I generally saw him were the obligatory family get togethers. We never had a problem between us, we just didn't have a genuine relationship, which was ok with both of us. I haven't seen him in seven years and I live about 1,000 miles from him. We don't communicate. Two years ago he found me on facebook and we started having casual conversations and laughing a lot. Things seemed good. One day he tried to start an argument with me over politics, which I neither brought up nor appreciated. After trying to shy away from the topic unsuccessfully, I told him that I didn't want to argue over what ultimately amounted to personal opinions. He stopped speaking to me. I don't mean there was an actual estrangement, just that he no longer communicated with me through FB. He's done that very thing to my father in the past as well. 

Now that my SIL has cancer, I'm not sure what to do. She is a very nasty, rude woman who treated my parents like crap throughout the years, though she was ok to me. I have absolutely no feelings for her and to be honest, no feelings for my brother. He really is a stranger to me and I'm not sure I would recognize him if I saw him on the street. I've had two major surgeries in 4 years. Neither was a life saving operation but he was aware of both and never even emailed me to ask how I was doing. I'm fine with that and didn't expect him to do otherwise. 

My question is what do I do? What I want to do is send him an email saying that I heard about SIL, that I'm sorry and ask him what is going on treatment wise etc. I'd like to ask him to keep me updated. If he didn't I would send an occasional email to ask about her.  I don't want to call him to be perfectly honest . However I don't know what the protocol is here. I want to try to do the right thing but in truth, I don't feel that I owe more than the email . I'm sure that sounds terrible but I'm just being honest. To me he is not really family and has never indicated that he has more feeling towards me than what I have for him.  Again, I know that sounds harsh but I feel this way for a reason. What do you think is the right thing to do?


iVillage Member
Registered: 04-16-2008
Tue, 09-18-2012 - 9:33pm

I believe your first obligation is to be true to yourself.  If you never have a relationship with your SIL, and do not feel like saying anything, don't.  Perhaps I am weird, but in my book, disingenuous words of concern and sympathy are worse than honest silence.  Cannot speak for others, but I will never think of your feelings as harsh.

Besides, if your half-brother really wants to include you, he could and should have contacted you directly.

Avatar for lizmvr
iVillage Member
Registered: 06-06-2001
Tue, 09-18-2012 - 11:00pm

I think if you can send the email with no expectation of him or his wife ever having a deeper relationship with you, you should do that.  It seems like the generous kind thing to do in my opinion. You're not obligated to show some concern to someone who's basically a stranger, but to me, it is still the right thing to do for your brother, his wife, and your dad.

Good luck, and though she's a stranger to me, too, I hope she gets through the surgery and other treatment as well as she can!



Clinical Research Associate


iVillage Member
Registered: 11-21-2003
Wed, 09-19-2012 - 7:38am

Thanks everyone. I sent an email after I decided I was probably over thinking the whole thing and most likely worrying about something that would be a non issue anyway.  I'm glad to hear that no one thinks I'm a monster :smileyhappy:

iVillage Member
Registered: 02-14-2004
Wed, 09-19-2012 - 11:58am

It wouldn't hurt to just send her a get well card signed by you...after all, it's her, not your brother who has the disease.  I find snail mail solves lots of problems like this because most people are too lazy to respond to snail mail these days.  You'll know you did something nice to somebody at a scary time in her life and that alone should bring a smile to your face. 

Emailing your brother would likely only open a new barrage of emails back and forth which would possibly end up with you getting on his "forward" list with every political piece of crap HE receives and just knows you want.  I have had lots of people do that to me, too and I hate it (even if I happen to agree with their politcal stance).  And, frankly you really aren't all that interested in how she's progressing since she's nasty and basically a stranger so why bother making an offer that suggests you do.  For people like that, the suggestion of continuing communication can be a problem-starter.

By the way, Dollar Tree sells get well cards by American Greetings for 50 cents, so you could handle the problem for less than $1 including postage! 

iVillage Member
Registered: 11-21-2003
Wed, 09-19-2012 - 1:45pm

Good idea. If I get any info on when SIL has her surgery I'll send her a get well card and then I'll feel like I did the right thing and consider the matter essentially closed, if all goes well that is. I trully hope everything will be fine for them. 

iVillage Member
Registered: 12-16-2008
Wed, 09-19-2012 - 1:49pm

My initial sense after reading your post is that it is a very kind, generous thing for you to reach out to your brother via e-mail, sending good thoughts for your sister-in-law.

I disagree about sending a card, unless, of course, you can do it genuinely.  As one other poster mentioned, unless you can do it in a heartfelt way, sending something out of obligation is as bad as doing nothing at all.

You are not a monster.  I think given the circumstances, and the relationship, you are being thoughtful and kind.

iVillage Member
Registered: 01-22-2004
Fri, 09-21-2012 - 1:21am
Can`t add anything better than the advice of the posters you have received. I don´t think you are harsh. I think you can show some concern for your father and tell him how sorry you are for the situation and you can check with him how things are going. E mail without expectations is a good idea.
Avatar for elc11
Community Leader
Registered: 06-16-1998
Fri, 09-21-2012 - 11:50am

I agree with the suggestion to send her a get-well card. Its a thoughtful gesture which she might appreciate, and she can choose to respond or not. Since you expressed concern and interest in your OP I don't think its a false gesture. 

iVillage Member
Registered: 12-27-2004
Sat, 09-22-2012 - 9:33am

One thing to bear in mind is that no matter how hard you try to to do the right thing, your disagreeable relatives may decide you've done it wrong.  An email, but no card?  A card, but no gift?  A gift, but no visit?  A  visit, but you stayed too long?  For some people, you can never be right, so whatever you do, do it for yourself.

iVillage Member
Registered: 12-16-2008
Sat, 09-22-2012 - 3:33pm

Totally agree with this!  Very well said!