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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships - 17

It could be you.... 

Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor for Relate and in private practice, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet in later life.  For reasons of confidentiality Maggi never writes about a particular person's problems unless you have sent one in to be answered, but all her examples are based on problems raised by clients, family and friends over the years.  

You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.

My brother is very ill; how far should we interfere?

One month ago we heard that my older brother is suffering from cancer and he is at present undergoing chemotherapy. No one knows if this will be successful. We have always been close to him and his wife and want to support them in any way we can. Unfortunately she seems to be so angry and bad tempered all the time, and  it is very hard to be near her and not feel that we are anything but a nuisance. She is caring for my brother very well, though has set her heart on him being cured. She flies off the handle at the slightest thing we say but never used to be like this. Do you think we are in the way?

How hard it must be to see your brother having to go through such a worrying time, not knowing if his treatment will free him of the cancer or not.

This is a very frightening time too for your sister-in-law. It sounds as though she is fiercely protective and using every ounce of her energy in trying to be there for her husband, to encourage him and give him hope, even if she feels terrified herself.

In such circumstances it is not surprising that she feels a need to vent anger over something which she feels she has little control.  She feels, with good reason, that her way of life and her future is under threat.

You say that she has always got on well with you and your husband, trusts you and feels close to you. You are probably the very people she can be open with. She trusts you to be strong enough to cope with her anger. She knows you are aware of her worry at this time and that you know she is not normally like that. You may well be feeling some of these things yourself, and if so this can help you understand some of what she is going through.

You are a very important part of your brother and sister-in-law's support system and as such need to be able to accept their mood swings. It may help to talk to your sister-in-law and tell her you don't want to be a hindrance, but want her to know that whatever happens you will be there for her.

Ask her how she thinks you can be of most help. 

There might be practical things that she would in normal circumstances take to her husband, or general household tasks that were once shared and need to be dealt with. Knowing you are willing to take on some of these things will be reassuring to your brother as well.

And of course, always be prepared to listen. You may not be able to do anything practical. You may not be able to say that at times you are upset by the emotional upheavals and their impact on you. But lending a sympathetic ear can speak volumes.

There are many Cancer Support organisations across Britain. Contact your GP, local Citizens Advice Bureau or BACUP for information. You can ring BACUP on 020 7696 9003 or write to them at: BACUP, 3 Bath Place, Rivington Street, London EC2A 3JR

For reasons of confidentiality Maggi never writes about a particular person but all her examples are based on problems raised by clients, family and friends over the years. We hope you find the column useful and interesting …  and if you have any comments or suggestions, Maggi would like to hear from you. Either share some your own experiences in the laterlife forum  or email her on .

Please don't send any confidential information to

To view previous articlesin this series - see the Relationship Counselling Index page


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