This past year I was diagnosed with cancer. I had to have chemotherapy, surgery and radiation over a few months. My husband was my rock and we managed to get through it. My siblings and friends supported us wonderfully through this tough time. The one exception was my mother-in-law. Although I thought we had a good relationship, she did not visit while I was having chemotherapy (and they live close to us). When my husband pressed her about her behaviour she came up with excuses such as: "I don't like hospitals." Honestly, who does? I think in the grown-up world we all do things we don't like to help other people. If she had been sick in hospital, my husband and I would have been there for her. It's sticking in my craw. Every time I think of it I feel hurt and angry. How do I get over this? Should I get over it?
Well, I'm not surprised it stuck in your craw. (Which by the way is an expression I know but looked up anyway and confess I still don't exactly get. "Craw" is "the crop of a bird." Which is great – but what's a "crop"?)
Who visits you or not in the hospital is a huge deal, in my opinion. I even broke up with a girlfriend once when she failed to visit me during a three-day hospital stay. (True, I was there for the nerdiest and most unsexy of reasons: I tipped over my chair in a library carrel and gashed my arm, which became infected.)
Another woman, an acquaintance, did visit: She became my girlfriend, and later my fiancée. (I know it'd be a better story if I were able to say, "That woman is now my wife!" But it didn't work out like that.)
This might be an odd thing for an advice columnist to admit, but on my conscience are the myriad ways I've let down my old man over the years. For example: I completely spaced out on a book launch of his and missed it completely. And there were other failings on my part. But I am happy to say I was able to be there for him when cancer landed him in the hospital.
It was fun – well, for me, anyway. He had a mask to ensure the radiation only blasted the lump on his neck and not any of the surrounding area. He'd grab the mask, get the blast, then we'd have a snack. Good father-son bonding.
My point (and I do have one, as you'll see, once the mists of outrage over me calling my dad's cancer "fun" have dissipated) is: It's very important to visit people when they're in the hospital.
It does a world of good – for both the visitor and the visitee, and inevitably strengthens the relationship between the two parties.
You should go even if it's something relatively minor. But cancer? Fugheddaboudit, you have every right to be shocked and hurt at your mother-in-law's no-show. When someone gets cancer and undergoes chemo, radiation and everything else, it's time for everyone to circle the wagons, bring frozen lasagnas, etc.
So I would definitely talk to her about it. Not angrily. A family, as I am always attempting to remind my three teenage boys, is an enterprise – a team. A team that has to pull together.
And you want to strengthen Team [Your Family Name Here], not split it further apart.
I know it's easy to say, but I'd speak to her directly, which it doesn't really sound like you have. This is not the time to use your husband as a go-between or mouthpiece. It's his mother, he's going to be a little soft on her.
Speak to her alone, woman to woman. Maybe something like: "I was really surprised and very hurt that you never visited me when I was undergoing chemotherapy. That was a scary time for me and a tough time for [Your Husband's Name Here]. And we really could have used you there."
If she offers, or reiterates, some footling excuse about not liking hospitals, I'd press her further. Maybe there's some deeper reason or phobia behind her failure to show. I can only guess what. Fear of cancer? Heebie-jeebies over illness in general?
Whatever it is, point out that love and concern for a family member should trump it. That you'd do the same for her if she were in trouble, and as much as she might not like visiting hospitals, try fighting for your life in one.
I don't know your mother-in-law, but I think she'd have to have a heart of stone not to see the error of her ways after that, and shape up for next time.
What am I supposed to do now? Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to firstname.lastname@example.org