Last year, my brother and his wife suffered a tragic loss when their young son drowned in an accident at their home. Since then, my sister-in-law has been extremely reluctant to travel to see our family, and I’m not sure why. My brother would love to visit, but I think he defers to her because she comes from a wealthy family that has bought them several properties and pays for their older son’s tuition at an expensive private school. I also think my sister-in-law feels guilty. They were at home when their son died, but left the boys to swim unsupervised. We don’t blame her for what happened. I just want my daughter to see her cousins more often. How can I build a bridge?
I’m sure you mean well, but you seem to need emergency lessons in empathy. Your sister-in-law is grieving! A year is like the blink of an eye after the devastating loss of a child. She may feel unable to plan and undertake leisure travel for your convenience.
There’s also the pandemic. Keeping her family safe and healthy probably strikes an even deeper chord for her under current circumstances. Attributing your brother’s deference to his in-laws’ wealth — and even mentioning blame for the child’s death — is insensitive. It was an accident! Isn’t it likelier that he and his wife are being gentle with each other because of their shared grief?
Try to put yourself in their position. The only question here should be: What can I do to ease their suffering? Start by offering a loving (and judgment-free) ear whenever they want to talk. You can also offer to visit them if they’re up for visitors and if you can agree on safety protocols that make sense. Take their lead, though. They’re going through something very difficult.
We Got the Jab. Sorry?
My family has been friends with a wonderful older couple for years. My spouse and I and our young adult children have all been fully vaccinated. We explored all legitimate avenues for early vaccination, and we found them (e.g. underlying health conditions, in-person volunteering and working as a teaching assistant). The older couple has been very principled about waiting their turn. They’re not fully vaccinated yet. And I was not honest with them about our family’s status; I felt guilty. But during a recent (socially distant) visit, my son blurted out the truth. Since then, we haven’t heard from them. What should I do? I would hate to lose their friendship.
You didn’t do anything wrong in taking the vaccine as soon as state rules permitted it. (And nothing in your question suggests that you were dishonest about early qualification.) The only mistake you made was lying to your friends. I can even sympathize with that in the face of their patient stoicism.
So, apologize! “I felt guilty that we were vaccinated and you weren’t. We didn’t break any rules, but I was afraid you’d think less of us for going early. I’m sorry I was dishonest with you. Will you forgive me?” I bet they will.
About Those Photographs …
Six years ago, I sold my home to move to a smaller one in another state. My neighbor had long admired a trio of large, gallery-framed photographs I own. Since my new house couldn’t accommodate them, she volunteered to “take care of them” until I wanted them again. Well, now I’ve bought a larger house, and I would love to have the photographs back. They are very personal and meaningful to me. How cheesy would it be to ask for them?
I’m less concerned with how meaningful the photographs are to you than with how clear you were with your former neighbor that you might want them back some day. If the possibility of reclaiming the art was merely a thought bubble that floated silently above your head, consider the photographs hers. You made a gift.
If you were clear about the pictures being on loan, though, it’s not cheesy to ask for them back. (You should pay to have them packed and shipped to you.) Don’t be surprised if your friend is a little annoyed. Six years is a long time, and this is probably not how she envisioned the story ending — though in fairness, it was always a possibility.
LinkedIn Me vs. the Real Me
A friend told me that my LinkedIn profile is cold and boring because I don’t mention anything about hobbies or outside interests. But I prefer to keep my personal life to myself. Is that wrong? Do I owe potential employers an accounting of my time during unemployment? Should I tell them I’ve been painting pictures of trees and writing racy short stories?
You owe potential employers nothing. It’s your call whether to include personal interests on your LinkedIn profile. But (and this may annoy you) as soon as you mentioned your tree paintings and racy stories, I grew more interested in you. It’s human nature, I think, to be drawn to the person behind a résumé. Now, less is more here. So, if you can bear it, a dab of human interest may enhance your job prospects.
For help with your awkward situation, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com, to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.