Sister-in-law pushing the limits of hospitable host
Dear Annie: My husband and I have been married 34 years. He’s a wonderful man. His sister, “Debbie,” is awful.
My husband remodeled our old house, and as soon as Debbie saw it she started hounding him to come do hers. She lives three states away. She wants him to remodel her kitchen and add a bathroom. She told him that she would pay him $10 an hour to do it. He said no: He knows that she is never happy with the work anybody does on her house.
About four years ago when she came to our house, she rearranged the furniture in our living room. She has been doing it ever since. During her most recent visit, she rearranged the furniture on our front porch and back deck. I have tried nicely asking her not to move things. She just ignores me.
She also has a drinking problem. From the second she rolls into our driveway, she has an open beer in her hand. We’ve seen her drink five beers and call each one her “first beer today.” I can’t decide if she thinks we are stupid or blind. My husband and I have tried to talk to her about her drinking problem, and she just accuses us of stretching the truth.
I would gladly stay away from her, but she is my husband’s only living blood relative. What can I do? — Way Past Annoyed
Dear Way Past Annoyed: You can erect boundaries, but because your husband is closer to her, he needs to do the heavy lifting.
Express to him just how much Debbie’s visits impact you, between the furniture-rearranging and the binge-drinking. And with regard to that second point: She clearly has an alcohol problem. If you and your husband continue to host her even when she’s drinking, you could be enabling her. Make her staying with you conditional on her not drinking. Tell her if she drinks and drives, you will call 911, because she’s a danger to herself and everyone else on the road. You might benefit from Al-Anon. Find a meeting in your area at https://al-anon.org.
Dear Annie: I have written scientific papers on a variety of cancers, including skin melanoma, which takes more lives every year. Unless caught early, the prognosis remains grim. While the shape, color and size of a blemish might suggest a malignancy, only a surgical biopsy can secure a diagnosis.
Here’s my problem: While in a crowd — usually on a beach or by a pool — I have noticed someone with a suspicious blemish. Though I’m tempted to suggest an exam by a physician, two fears have made me hold my tongue: the distress caused by a total stranger confronting a person in such an intimate way; and the needless anxiety if a biopsy shows no sign of a malignancy. As the queen of etiquette, what do you suggest I should do? — Heads-Up on Melanoma
Dear HUOM: Your concern for strangers’ well-being is admirable. Perhaps you could print out some cards that say something to the effect of, “I’m a medical doctor. I am giving you this card because I noticed a blemish on your skin that I believe you should have examined by a physician.” Keep them in your wallet to discreetly hand out when necessary. This would give them space to decide whether or not to see a doctor, without having to get into a conversation about it. No doubt it will still be a little uncomfortable — but if it saves even one person’s life, it’s worth a thousand awkward moments.
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