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Relationships - February 2017

Brother's weight loss


Maggi Stamp is a highly qualified relationship counsellor and trainer who writes each month about emotional and practical concerns and challenges that many of us meet in later life. For 20 years, as well as running a private practise, Maggi worked with the organisation Relate to help married and single people, cohabiting couples, same sex couples, families, young and old people and the bereaved to develop, foster and enjoy healthy and fulfilling relationships. No less important, as she is herself a wife, mother and grandmother, she brings a lifetime of varied and eventful experience to enhance her empathy and understanding.  

Many of her examples are based on concerns that clients, family and friends have presented over the years. In the monthly articles where she responds to issues raised by readers, she strictly respects confidentiality and never identifies those who write to her. But the individual worries they raise are invariably felt by others, so her responses can help many.

You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


Brother's weight loss

Maggi, can you advise me? My husband and I live in the next street to my brother. He was divorced about 18 months ago and we see him every week. Either he comes to us for a Sunday roast or we share a take away meal at his after we've all been to a football match or the cinema. We've always enjoyed each other's company and he and my husband are really good friends.

His divorce was pretty messy and he doesn't get to see his children much now as his ex manages to keep them busy out of school so there is no space for him. I know he worries about them a lot as they make it clear when they do see him that they're finding it hard to settle with a step-dad figure in their house.

My difficulty is that I don't seem to get my brother to take his health seriously and I think he is unwell. He is 53 and getting thinner quite fast. I just don't know if that, and his tiredness and lack of energy, is due to sadness, depression and missing his kids or not eating properly, or something more sinister.

I've tried to ask him if there are any other physical problems but he tells me I'm a fusspot and makes a joke of it. He says he's getting 'buff' again to attract all the younger women! I don't see buff, I see gaunt. How can I get him to see he needs to go to his doctor and get a check up at the very least?


Your brother is so fortunate to have you and your husband so close by. He has been through a huge change in his life and is coming to terms with not seeing his children very often. It does sound like they are willing to confide in him when they do though. If he is able to ensure he is always ready and willing to be there for them when they are able to come to him, then he is caring for and nurturing those vital ties that will allow his children to exercise their individual choice as they grow more mature. There is every chance that, with care and reassurance, they will always want to stay close and in contact with him. There, that is one of his possible worries you can tell him he is handling well, to boost what is likely to be a fairly bruised self confidence.

Let me head this next part thus:

Unexplained weight-loss should always be checked out with a doctor.
You say he jokes away your concerns for his health. He visits you each week and he still goes to watch his team play on a Saturday with both of you. That says to me he still wants to be part of things rather than shrink away and see no-one. Of course he'll feel sad and even lonely - he'll need time to deal with those feelings, but he doesn't sound too depressed. Your sisterly instincts are picking up on his appearance and I'd keep a close eye on him to see how and what he eats, ask about his sleep patterns and look for signs of his tiring when you all go out.
If those things give you cause for concern then you need to ask him to take you seriously for once - and be honest with himself too. His children need him to be there when they come to him. Tell him he is not looking well - use the word gaunt if you wish, it means something more than just slim or even thin.
There are practical things you could do if you have the time. You could cook healthy balanced meals for him to put in his freezer, write a check-list of nutritious foods he needs to have regularly to keep in his kitchen and suggest meals he can cook using them.

But if it continues, or if you think things are past that point, you need to encourage him firmly to see his GP.
Knowing that many men try to put this step off as long as they dare, it might take some time to persuade and cajole him. Explain that the longer things are left the harder they are to correct. My own brother did this and left things so late that nothing could be done for him. No-one needs to get to that frightening point.

He is in his fifties now and physical changes can throw men's bodies out of balance as well as women's. Hormonal changes are so obvious for women, but men go through subtle changes too, especially if they have had an unhappy time like your brother. It is possible he could have some kind of imbalance which can be corrected fairly simply.
But equally, he could have an illness needing immediate attention.
Again - Unexplained weight-loss should always be checked out with a doctor.

I wonder too if your husband, his close friend, might be able to persuade him to get checked out medically. Sometimes hearing things from a sister is more easily dismissed than hearing them from a pal. Being able to identify man-to-man with an anxiety can allow the message to be heard and understood more clearly.

You and your husband are his closest support. Be patient but don't let him slide out of caring for himself - for his and for his children's sake. It is so good that you care about him like this. I'm sure he appreciates your concern.



You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


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