DEAR ABBY: Seventeen years ago, when my sister “Elise” and I were 19 and 25, our mother kicked us both out. I have long since forgiven her, and I have a happy relationship with her. Elise, on the other hand, has never let it go. I don't understand why, because she’s the older of us, and 25 was a normal age to leave the nest.
Elise refuses to see our mother unless someone drives out to pick her up, so every holiday and birthday my stepfather picks her up and drives her round trip. Even when my sister is there, she speaks to no one, not even me. Mom and I talk and beg her to join us, while Elise sits off to the side and refuses to join in. I have planned girls’ trips for the three of us with the same result.
I long for a relationship with Elise, but not a one-sided one. I feel bad for Mom and for her, because I’m sure Elise is lonely. I feel like a horrible person when I say I have a sister but we are not close. Do you think there’s any hope? – Missing Normal in Michigan
DEAR MISSING NORMAL: There may be a lot more wrong with your sister than a case of hard feelings. As you said, 17 years ago it was normal for 25-year-old women to leave their parents’ home and live independently or with a contemporary. If, at age 41, Elise is as isolated and uncommunicative as you describe, she may need the help of a psychotherapist to get back on track. Of course, this would entail her admitting she has a problem and a desire to do something about it. Unless that happens, there’s nothing you or your parents can do to “help” her.
DEAR ABBY: I am a 63-year-old man, born “Thomas J. Reilly.” I was legally adopted at 14, although I had lived with my adoptive parents since I was 6 months old and was given their surname, “Johnson.” My wife of 42 years recently died. My adoptive parents died several years ago, and my brother, who was also adopted by the Johnsons, has been gone two years.
My mother always wanted me to search for my birth family, but out of respect for her and Dad, I never did. Now, because I have no adoptive relations left in my life, I’m considering changing my name back to Reilly, but I’m ambivalent about it. I want to re-engage with my birthright, yet remain respectful to the Johnsons, who lovingly raised me as their own. My heart has two halves, and I don’t know which to nurture. – Confused in the East
DEAR CONFUSED: The line, “What's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” is a classic in English literature. In a situation like yours, however, it may not hold true. You honored your adoptive parents and your brother every day of their lives. If you feel changing your name would make your heart whole, then follow through with what you need to do.
Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Contact Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.