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Need advice on helping/dealing with my uncle

  • 06-06-2020 3:37pm
    Registered Users Posts: 166,026 ✭✭✭✭

    I have an elderly uncle who has no family living nearby anymore. Since I've been 20 or so, I've been the only person in the family to contact him on a regular basis and treat him with any kind of due respect. Because he is unmarried and never really got a 'normal' career together, he was happy with making ends meet, and both sides of his family who are mostly middle class or 'upwardly mobile' have looked down on him and have not had the intelligence or empathy to value his intelligence or him as a pethe rson/member of family. He is overall a very kind person and deserved better.

    I kept in regular contact with him, brought him on holidays, encouraged him to have adventures, helped with making health appts for him, and so on. I was the only family member to even contact him regularly at Christmas, the others would forget unless I reminded them, and this is just a phone-call they couldn't manage. Even though they knew he would be alone. Previous to my parents passing away, he would come to our house for christmas, but since them he has been on his own. Our older cousins who had families never invited him.

    Anyway, he fell ill recently, and was in hospital. I live abroad, but expected him to have me listed as one of his next of kin due to us being in such regular contact. Because he did not put my name down, the nurses would not share personal updates about his health with me, and when I called him, he was always telling me not to worry, then every other time he would tell me not to be annoying him, that I was upsetting the ward and patients. It turned out he shared a couple of key updates with my cousins in Ireland, and the nurses did, so that I had to suffer being told key pieces of information from them, from these same people who never make any effort to call or help him. They just turn up when he is ill, or there is a death, etc. I feel very let down about this. Even though I'm on speaking terms with these cousins, who are ok people, we are not close.

    I can understand that he included them because they are in Ireland and he would hope that they would take care of his funeral arrangements, but I expected my name to be listed as next of kin. I'm deeply upset that whenever I called him at the hospital, he was more often than not short tempered with me, and even when his neighbour asked for my contact details, because the neighbour knows we were close, my uncle even told him that he had no phone number for me, but gave the same cousins' contact details. He said he just wanted one point of contact by way of explanation.

    Now my uncle has recovered and though I had distanced myself in recent weeks as he was just plainly rude when I called, I called him last weekend and he was back to normal, no bad temper, friendly. However I feel deeply hurt. He never calls me or anyone due to not wanting to spend money on credit so I have always been the one to call him. But now I just don't feel like it. I don't want to have it out with him either as he is elderly and has just recovered from a pretty serious illness. I do still care for him, but he treated me very badly.

    The final thing is that I fell out with my siblings over the care of our parents. For some reason my uncle, who so rarely hears from my brother, is desperate to have him in his life, and when he told him a flat out lie to taint me, my uncle said it back to me, and had believed my brother. This happened just before the illness.

    What should I do here? My instinct tells me to step away and not have him in my life if this is how he treats me, the only one who has cared for 15 years or so.


  • Registered Users Posts: 1,208 ✭✭✭Batgurl

    Unfortunately, as you live abroad you don’t always know what has happened in your absence. When you move abroad you assume everything at home stays how you left it. This is definitely not the case.

    Maybe your uncle feels abandoned by you. Maybe your relatives have made more of an effort recently. Maybe there is something else you aren’t aware of.

    We can’t make people like us OP.

    All we can do is be good people, kind, considerate and treat people however we would like to be treated, and hope that thats enough to show others our worth. And for them to do the same. We also get to decide if others are worth our time.

    Are you perhaps a little jealous that he seems to have chosen others over you?

  • Closed Accounts Posts: 1,172 ✭✭✭cannotlogin

    Don't take it personally. If he is as isolated as much as you say he is, he's obviously desperate for some local company. It's doesn't mean he doesn't care about you less, proximity to him is important.

  • Registered Users Posts: 1,328 ✭✭✭Upforthematch

    Hi Op,

    You've cared about him 15 years why stop now when he's sick and in hospital?

    Imagine youre a parent and your uncle is your son. Lots of parents have a similar relationship with their children. They drive you mad but you love them all the same.

  • Registered Users Posts: 9,061 ✭✭✭leggo

    So I’d say there’s a combination of a few things going on here. I’ll lay them out and you can parse for yourself how relevant each one may be OP.

    1) There’s definitely something to people going travelling and not expecting things to change, it’s a process everyone I know who’s moved has had to adjust to. The reality is that while you may leave for a better life, you also leave behind those at home and they all had to adjust. They won’t all just sit around missing you and your elderly uncle couldn’t be left alone to care for himself, I’m sure part of you is happy if he’s getting care that he needs now without you even if it has put a small strain on your own relationship. And that’s a sacrifice you chose to make, whether you realised it or not, with both him and other family and friends. You shouldn’t feel guilty for that, and families can adjust, but you have to accept that and allow it to happen if the move was right for you. You’ll only end upset if you expect everyone to sit around with a you-shaped hole in their lives, it’s not how it happens and that’s actually a good thing for all involved on balance even if it causes some mild upset during the transition.

    2) Your family were probably happy to let you care for him, but their own lack of effort when you lived here probably wasn’t because they just didn’t give a ****. Being the primary carer for an elderly relative is a huge commitment. I wouldn’t let any of my aunts and uncles rot by themselves, but I also wouldn’t go rushing to be their primary carer if someone else could handle it because I’d like the benefit of getting to live my own life where possible. That’s probably what happened with you, you took the responsibility on, even though again you may not have realised that. Then when you were gone, someone else needed to step up so they did. Again, that’s ultimately a good thing. If you were next of kin, you wouldn’t have been able to have given him the care he needed from another country. And isn’t that more important than him paying tribute to you but not having access to the care he needs?

    3) Lastly, when we’re in a family and love our relatives, we’re sometimes clouded to how they may truly be seen by the rest of the world. For example no family considers themselves the village oddballs, but there definitely are village oddball families we’ve all met, it’s just their life is normal to them because it’s all they know. Why I’m saying this is that there may have been a reason you hadn’t been privy to why your family kept/keeps their distance from your uncle. I don’t mean that in terms of any big dramatic family secrets, he could just be known for being rude and unpleasant as he was to you. But when you were/are the only source of his social interaction, maybe he values that so is on his best behaviour. And when you weren’t, maybe you got a taste of why the rest keep their distance where possible. There’s always two sides to every story after all, but while you and him had a positive relationship you had no reason to question his side and assumed the worst of your family. But I did raise an eyebrow when you put their motives for ignoring him down to basically being snobby, when you also describe them as pretty sound in a later sentence.

    What to do from here? That’s up to yourself, there’s no definitive answer. Are you obliged to still call and help him where possible? No, not at all. If you’re that upset about how he spoke to you, you don’t owe him anything, and if he doesn’t appreciate what you have done to take responsibility then that’s on him. But he’s also elderly and probably set in his ways, so be advised he probably won’t take responsibility and you may be left waiting forever for an apology that won’t come. So if you want him in your life, if you think you’d regret ignoring him when he’s gone one day, then your best course of action is just letting it go and accepting him for who he is.

  • Registered Users Posts: 166,026 ✭✭✭✭LegacyUser

    Hi Op,

    You've cared about him 15 years why stop now when he's sick and in hospital?

    Imagine youre a parent and your uncle is your son. Lots of parents have a similar relationship with their children. They drive you mad but you love them all the same.

    Hi - he is no longer in hospital. I was in constant contact with him while he was in hospital and for two weeks when he came home from hospital. He was already doing very well when I stepped back.

    I do love him, but it's very hurtful. I will keep the contact up but just make it less frequent. The issue is, I don't want to confront him due to his age and that he is my uncle, and on the other hand, I don't feel the same warmth or trust towards him that I previously had. I feel he betrayed me and that he would believe my brother, over me, is very sad and reflects very badly on him.

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  • Registered Users Posts: 166,026 ✭✭✭✭LegacyUser

    Batgurl wrote: »
    Unfortunately, as you live abroad you don’t always know what has happened in your absence.

    I appreciate your points. Regarding being jealous - not at all. I just feel bruised by it, because he showed zero loyalty to me and I expect loyalty from people I am closest to. It's a form of respect you show to others who stand by you.

    But you are right about not being able to make people like us. He obviously does like my brother more, even though he has majorally let him down on one occasion, leaving him with no place to stay, and has rarely called him. My uncle is free to talk to him, I welcome him having contact with others, I've always told them to call him for example, but that he has believed my brother about something, that is absolutely false, really shocked me, and I'm so shocked I don't even feel like arguing about it. It's a total affront and I am taking that item personally.

    My uncle has definitely not been abandoned by me. If anything I increased contact since I left. I just 'appear' further away I suppose but in reality I am doing more for him than any of our relatives who do live in Ireland. He does know that deep down, but he has clearly taken it for granted.

  • Registered Users Posts: 166,026 ✭✭✭✭LegacyUser

    leggo wrote: »
    So I’d say there’s a combination of a few things going on here. I’ll lay them out and you can parse for yourself how relevant each one may be OP.

    You make many good points. He can be difficult and contrary and people in my family have definitely distanced themselves for that reason as well. But this contrariness was more to do with him giving unwanted advice. Our other cousins are older and saw less of this contrary side - but they just don't bother. They are leading honest lives, they work hard, have families, so this is why I mentioned they are good people, but when it comes to helping him, they had been totally absent.

    The thing is I was not any kind of primary carer, just more like a good friend, and his main connection with his family. Had I not done that, he would have been more or less totally isolated. He called the others in the past, but stopped doing so, as they wouldn't answer or call him back so he gave up.

    I think I have to maintain some kind of contact for my own conscience. I'm not going to be as trusting of him, and I will call him less often, but I won't cut him off.
    Thanks for all of your advice, it definitely made me see it through another lens.