Miss Manners by Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin

Maintaining Compassion During Sibling’s Messy Divorce

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My sibling and his spouse of 20 years are acrimoniously divorcing. The toxicity surrounding the breakup led the families of both parties to stick with their respective family member, and support that person during this very unhappy time. My family is very focused on the children, doing our best to ensure they feel loved, secure and supported.

My soon-to-be-ex in-law’s parents have both recently been diagnosed with terminal illnesses. My sibling has been told in no uncertain terms by his spouse not to reach out in any way to the parents, either to express sorrow or to offer support.

As a result, my sibling has instructed our family to ignore the illnesses and remain in the background. I do understand where this is coming from, but after 20 years marking milestone events in the children’s lives, holidays, etc., I feel like an awful human for not at least sending some sort of card or letter or basket of fruit to these elderly, ill people.

Can Miss Manners please create a directive of proper etiquette between about-to-be-ex families? I can’t believe I’m the only person to face this very awkward and sad situation.

GENTLE READER: One of the things most divorced couples realize too quickly is that they no longer have to do what the other says.

Miss Manners therefore appreciates that your sibling is intending to put harmony first in this case. But even if he avoids his soon-to-be-ex in-laws, the ban does not reasonably apply to you. Contacting your ex-relatives is the compassionate thing to do; just make allowances for the awkward position in which they may then find themselves with their own family member.