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BEL MOONEY: How can I heal the rift with my twin’s family? 

Dear Bel,

Just before the Covid outbreak I lost my twin sister Joyce.

I had a phone call from my niece, Sally, to say her mother had fallen, broken both legs and was in hospital.

Because Joyce suffered from COPD, I didn’t visit because of a heavy cold. But then Joyce worsened and I was with her at the end, even though she was unconscious.

I was in close contact with her family up until the funeral. We discussed who should do the eulogy and various names were mentioned.

Nobody was keen to do it and on the day I was surprised and impressed when Sally took on the task. But I knew something wasn’t right because she (good-as) ignored me and my family.

Then Covid struck. My husband and I wondered what had happened to Joyce’s ashes but I didn’t feel I could phone to ask her family for fear of upsetting them.

When restrictions lifted my brother-in-law visited us. It was lovely and poignant to see him, but he didn’t know about the ashes.

After he left, I found out that the undertaker still had them.

A few weeks later, I received a beautiful message from him saying that Joyce was now home with him and he would include me in plans for laying her ashes to rest. I messaged my happiness to him.

Sadly, my happiness was shattered when my niece messaged telling me to leave her father alone and not to interfere — as I had done to her when Joyce died.

She accused me of many things, none of which are true. She refused a phone call and kept hostile messages that felt like being bullied. We now haven’t spoken for six months.

I’m still in touch with my brother-in-law (and my nephew) but can’t visit him because my niece lives with him. I’ve no idea whether Joyce’s ashes have been scattered. It’s tearing me apart.

She was my other half. I need to be able to visit where she is and talk to her. I do want things to be right between Sally and myself but, sadly, I don’t think it’s going to happen.

She has a history and didn’t speak to her brother for a long time. I’ve lost her as well as Joyce and it’s really bothering me.

MARGARET

This week Bel speaks to a woman who lost her twin sister and wants to heal the rift with her family.

First let me say how sorry I am that you were so suddenly deprived of the twin who meant — and will always mean — so much to you.

She was only 70 (your original letter was very long, so I have many more details) and should have had as much life left as you have, God willing.

It is clear you are still reeling from the loss and in desperate need of the kind of closure that can be achieved when there is a grave to visit, or even a special place where ashes have been scattered. The symbolic value of this in the healing process cannot be under-estimated.

What can be said about Sally’s behaviour? All the details of what happened before Joyce’s funeral, painstakingly spelt out in your email, leave me feeling that she has somehow turned you into a scapegoat for all her problems, which will include grief for her mother — and possibly some guilt too, since they were living together when the fatal fall occurred.

Thought of the day 

How simple is my burden every day

Now you have died, till I am also dead,

The words, ‘Forgive me’ that I could not say,

The words, ‘I am sorry’ that you might have said.

Frances Darwin Cornford (English poet, 1886 – 1960)

You say she has a history of confrontation, too — some people are like that. It’s very sad, I hope that one day you are reconciled, perhaps through the agency of your nephew and brother-in-law. Since Joyce would like this, I hope it can happen.

If I were you I would write a proper letter to your brother-in-law and invite him for a visit. Tell him how you feel about the ashes and earnestly ask for his help.

If the ashes have been interred he will obviously know where and, therefore, you will be able to visit, lay down a rose, talk to your sister, be at peace.

But if Joyce’s ashes are still at home with the family, perhaps he could help you make a lasting private memento.

Many people find it helpful to have a piece of jewellery or a paperweight made, containing a loved ones ashes.

For example, visit the website ashesintobathaquaglass.com (just one firm that offers this service, but one I know, so can vouch for) and see what it can do. The process is carried out with utmost respect and can all be achieved by post. All you need is one teaspoonful of ashes, that’s all.

If your brother-in-law could provide these precious remains for you in a small envelope, then you could have a pendant (say) made and wear it close to your heart.

I hope this creative thought will help you come to terms with all that happened, knowing that, in any case, your sister is still with you.

Without intimacy I feel so unwanted

Dear Bel,

I’m 60, my husband is 47 and we’ve been married for 20 years. We have a daughter, who is 18, and I have four kids from a previous marriage.

Our family is really loving and supportive. We’re a balanced, civilised and caring couple. And we do love each other.

But this evening I plucked up the courage to speak to my husband about the total lack of intimacy in our lives. There was little enough before but, in the past three years, none at all.

I’d mentioned it on New Year’s Eve — pointing out that we sleep in separate rooms and barely manage a hug in front of the television. His response was that he’s just not interested any more.

I was worried it was because I’d put on weight and was older, but he says it’s nothing to do with either. He’s just not interested in sex any more and it doesn’t worry him. I tried gently to point out that it actually was an issue for me. It hadn’t even occurred to him.

I know the mattress in our super-king bed hurts his back, but sex doesn’t require much time out of one’s night and I feel it’s become an excuse for sleeping in the spare room.

It is always me who brings up this issue but it never makes any difference. I feel lonely and hopeless — as well as distraught that he never worries about how this impacts on me.

My husband is a lovely guy. But I don’t know what to do.

VALERIE

   

More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail…

Being absolutely honest, I confess that your letter made my heart sink. But that’s all the more reason for me to give it space in this column, because this is an issue which crops up a lot and affects many people.

I was once berated by a reader for daring to suggest (answering a similar letter) that sex causes far more trouble than it is worth. Well, that’s a crude synopsis of what I wrote but it sums up my general attitude.

Recently, I had a conversation with a man I know who ventured the opinion that if a man or woman loses interest in sex, there is nothing that can be done.

Many people — both sexes — reach early middle age to find this is the case.

The thrill has gone in the relationship and the urge has gone, too. Perhaps they never did have much of a sex drive. Maybe, even as teenagers, they secretly preferred to read a book or watch the big match than roll around snogging.

It’s my considered view that the extraordinary emphasis placed on sex in society (franker each year) gives a very skewed view of the importance of the once-private moments.

Yes, sex can be the most glorious and transcendent experience, binding you to someone you love. But when the need for sexual release dies out, the love that is left between two soulmates can be more beautiful and profound and long-lasting than any orgasm.

Some people will find that thought a heresy. Sex therapists and columnists might expect me to suggest you slip into his room, all perfumed and ready, slide naked into his bed and try the skin-on-skin therapy that can work wonders.

They will offer ‘touching’ and ‘holding’ as advice — and there is nothing wrong with such generous counsel.

However, in reality, couples do pass the point at which such ruses work. Embarrassment kicks in. Rusty robots no longer move — and, in real life, no Repair Shop skill can fix a mind which has simply decided, ‘not interested any more’.

What’s more, women can make an effort for the sake of the marriage. Can a man achieve an erection if he doesn’t want to?

But your question is how can you deal with a situation that’s making you unhappy. Can it be accepted?

You love and care for one another, which seems to be the best signpost for a companionable old age when one may have to do more caring than the other.

In parts of Eastern Europe, it used to be quite common for couples to sleep separately. For me, the comfortable companionship of the double bed is essential and keeps loneliness at bay.

In your place, I would get rid of that mattress, perhaps invest in one of those double beds with separate halves and suggest you start sharing a bedroom again.

A night-time hug can warm the heart, even if other parts stay asleep. I suspect you crave love and affection more than the old three-letter word.

And finally… Texts are no place for an angry word  

Oh, I did such a stupid, stupid thing. All these years I have been trying to give advice from my heart and my head, sometimes getting it wrong, no doubt — but always attempting to infuse my replies with practical common sense.

There is an old Latin tag which asks, Quis custodiet ipsos custodes, meaning, ‘Who guards the guards themselves?’ In the past, I’ve extended that (somewhat jokily) to ‘Who gives advice to the advice columnist?’ Such a pertinent question!

Contact Bel 

Bel answers readers’ questions on emotional and relationship problems each week.

Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT, or email bel.mooney@dailymail.co.uk.

A pseudonym will be used if you wish.

Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

I have expostulated with readers who have written to describe how they’ve quarrelled by text. I’ve asked why would they do such a stupid thing.

Who can say anything subtle and meaningful in a text? Brevity can be harsh and hurtful and you should think hard before writing anything down.

At least if you pick up the phone you hear a voice. So what did I do? Yes, I quarrelled with somebody very dear to me — via messages. I wouldn’t have sent the first cross one if I hadn’t had a few drinks — and there is another, important warning for you all.

Anyway, this quarrel made me thoroughly miserable and the other person, too, although they were (quite rightly) livid as well. I still felt angry the next day, but realised I was in the wrong.

Those opinions should have been kept to myself — and there’s yet another warning for you. Maybe the careless nastiness of social media is catching and everybody thinks their opinions should be aired. What matters is, I had not been asked.

There was only one thing to do: go round to their house and apologise. Which is what I did and, after a good talk (with some tears from me), all was forgiven. I confessed to this dear person that I’ve felt very stressy since my mother died, and lost, too. My apology was accepted. Oh, the relief!

Never again will I quarrel by text. This is a public confession of a painful private upset from a flawed human being.

 

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