I am the eldest of three boys, and one girl. My problem concerns my brother Bill and sister Lucy.
After a tough upbringing, I was the only one to gain any academic success and do well. I think the others were jealous but Lucy was effusive in her praise and I always maintained a good ‘big brother’ relationship with her. Or thought I had.
I was disappointed my other brother and Lucy were estranged from Bill for more than 30 years. Sometimes I suggested they contact one another again — to no effect. Bill used to say he’d phoned them ten years earlier and they didn’t call back.
Though polar opposites, Bill and I were very close as children and teens. That changed during adulthood (we married and followed different careers) but we always stayed in touch.
Bill’s wife died almost three years ago, after a very turbulent half-century in which they divorced, then remarried. His wife was instrumental in the purchase of their property and dabbled in stocks and shares, building up a portfolio in the region of £120k. With a bungalow valued at over £400k, the estate left for Bill was not small.
Bill decided I would be his sole beneficiary (they never wanted children) though I suggested he spend the money while he still had the time/good health to enjoy it.
I didn’t think about it again until February of this year, when my sister came to stay with me for a few days.
Lucy had called after Bill’s wife’s death to explain she was distressed at her estrangement from him and wanted my help contacting him again. Wanting us all to be reunited, I ‘worked’ on Bill and he eventually relented. Lucy started to visit him. He started to ‘lend’ her money.
Lucy’s been very profligate all her life, running up enormous sums on credit cards and quarrelling with anybody who tried to advise. When she started visiting Bill her contact with me and our other brother tailed off. Meanwhile, Bill was diagnosed with cancer.
In February Lucy came and told me Bill had changed his will and was going to leave everything to her. I was stunned. She had clearly made up with Bill in the hope of an inheritance.
By the way, even when reunited with him, my sister often told me she didn’t like ‘boring’ Bill. But he was effusive, saying Lucy loved him and had promised to look after him. I emailed Bill after Lucy’s revelation, alerting him to my suspicions about our sister, and suggesting we discuss it. No reply.
Now Bill only has a short time left. Lucy has told our other brother that Bill wants nothing to do with me. So I’m not inclined to attend his funeral, as he didn’t want me and I’d be forced to see Lucy again. I have been betrayed by Bill and Lucy and will never forgive her.
This week Bel advises a reader who is worried his sister will receive all of his brother’s estate after he was cut out of the will
Ah, never, never, never, never, never . . . is it? ‘Never’ is an eternity, but our poor lives are so short.
‘Never’ is a death knell that drowns out, with deafening, doleful booms, the pitiful bleatings of human folly, need, weakness, error.
Your brother Bill will never again have strength and a future, but you are still free to clutch your ‘never forgive’ to your chest as long as you can draw breath with the weight of it.
Tell me, sir, I beg you . . . what on earth is the point of all this? Your original email would have filled this entire column, so I know a lot about your family background. You worked hard to overcome a tough childhood and describe problems with your siblings, and a punitive father.
Thought of the day
This, she thought, is a familiar story, and I suspect that I shall have heard the very same story before — in a different setting, of course, played out amongst different people, but at heart identical. Human avarice, human jealousy, human resentment: these never changed, but did their unsettling work in ways that were recognisable and predictable to anybody whose job it was . . . to sort out the problems of others . . .
from The Joy And Light Bus Company by Alexander McCall Smith (British writer, born 1948)
But you also begin by frankly admitting that the ‘message’ of your long letter is that ‘money is the root of all evil’.
Certainly, of the Seven Deadly Sins, ‘Greed’ (and we can fold ‘avarice’ and ‘covetousness’ into the word) is ultimately a cause of envy, lustfulness, murder and war.
Letters about wills make my heart sink (and while writing this reply another one landed in my inbox, from RW) because they bring out the worst in people. Families can even end up pointlessly wrangling over Mum’s vintage biscuit tin and costume jewellery.
I can see why you are dismayed by what you view as your sister’s cunning deception.
Irresponsible all her life (you explain she has a son she never sees) she moved in on Bill once his canny wife was dead and sweet-talked her way into his trust. The mistake you made was to email Bill accusing Lucy — because that was only ever going to look like sour grapes because you expected and wanted the inheritance.
It would have been wiser to go and see him, perhaps direct his attention to nephews and nieces, discuss possible charitable donations, and so on.
Too late for that now — but not too late to make your peace with a dying brother. Look at it this way: if you don’t, you are bound to regret it once he is dead. If you do, you will feel a better person.
As for Lucy, if you believe you can’t attend your brother’s funeral without quarrelling with her (this in your uncut letter) then you need to think hard and remember dignity.
Ill-gotten gains will never make her happy and holding the grudge will blight your future.
I never feel loved by my husband
I am 74, my husband 83 — we’ve been married for 56 years, and are great-grandparents to four lovely children. We love our whole family very much and they’re all devoted to my husband.
I have always loved him and believe he loves me too — but in all the years we have been married, he has only said it once. That was when his mother died, decades ago.
Many years ago my husband decided he no longer wanted sex. It had been dwindling for some years. I thought it may be the male menopause, as Tom was 57 to my 48. Nothing happened; he said no more about it.
I suggested we talk to a counsellor, but no — he would not mention it. This was his attitude throughout our married life. For example, when I discovered a lump in my breast, he said nothing — so it wasn’t happening.
My husband is a good man, much quieter than me — always a talker. He calls it shyness, but it makes it difficult to have a discussion. I am going insane, thinking about being held and loved.
More than once I have asked him to explain — feeling if I could understand it, things might become easier.
As it is, I’m just so thankful for my dogs — one of which I am convinced has saved my life with his unconditional love and companionship.
I don’t want sex for sex’s sake and would hate a one-night stand. I need to love and feel loved.
Your letter reminds me of the fact that the young tend to be amazed, even shocked, that the elderly can still feel a need for passion.
The poet A.S.J. Tessimond described this longing as the ‘. . . landlocked, long complaint’ of ‘the all-too-youthful heart’. I hear that wistful keening within your words.
Asked about letters, I answer a common question about the differences between male and female problems with a generalisation: ‘Men write because their wives no longer want sex, but women write because their husbands don’t communicate or cuddle.’
More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail…
Of course, that word ‘cuddle’ needs explanation too, because many men can only view cuddles as a useful prelude to full sex, whereas their wives long for a cuddle as a proof of deep affection. There is truth in this over-simplification.
So there will be many women feeling great sympathy for your sadness. Many may be thinking how relieved they feel at the lack of sex in their marriages, yet still identify with your longing for love. Not love-making. Love.
There is no easy answer to your problem. I could suggest counselling, but you and I know he will simply turn away. If he refused to think of it all those years ago he’s not going to now.
A man his age is inevitably set in his ways — one of which is a lack of communication skills. Perhaps he is genuinely shy and that was a part of his reticence about sex. It’s a major delusion of our times that frequent, satisfying sex is the norm.
Of course, lovemaking within a marriage can be utterly wonderful, and many couples feel it cements the mental/spiritual devotion they share.
They are the happy ones. But for many others — and I suspect you probably fit into this category — being held tightly by the person you love, and hearing words of affection sincerely expressed, represents the kind of devotion that lasts ‘until death do us part’. And beyond, for that matter.
What lies ahead for you? It might help to have some counselling on your own, to help you analyse your feelings to come to terms with the realities of your life.
Be honest with yourself: at this stage you are not going to leave your husband. The family structure you value gives you support and in addition to that I suggest you aim to fill your time as much as possible with friends, activities, tasks, fun. Don’t wait for your husband to give you a hug; give him one instead. He won’t change, but you might.
Having said that, may I suggest it is a mistake to assume that words not uttered are not felt? Many men tell women they love them, pouring sweet nothings into their ears as if they had just invented Romance.
But then they lie and cheat, leaving trust in tatters. Life has taught some of us to value deeds, not words.
And finally…Three cheers for the merry month of May
Nothing is more beautiful than May in England, when all the leaves are fresh with promise like our younger selves, and warmer air bids the shoulders relax.
I love the poet Thomas Hardy’s description of this precious time when ‘. . . the May month flaps its glad green leaves like wings, /Delicate-filmed as new-spun silk’. But don’t throw caution (and sweaters) aside to plant your containers yet, because they might still get frosted.
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 email@example.com.
Names are changed to protect identities.
Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.
You can’t trust the ‘sour spring wind’ — as Hardy also observed in another poem, called An Unkindly May.
The seasons provide useful lessons. They also remind us to see our lives in stages — not clear-cut (because we’re used to unseasonable weather) but still unfolding ahead. I often gently tell exhausted young mothers that the ‘terrible twos’ (and the terrible teens!) is just a stage — so try to enjoy the present while you can.
One minute you’re getting married and then, in a blink, comes your 25th anniversary. One minute you’re on the floor playing with children and then, in the time it takes to shout ‘No!’, you’re looking at an empty nest.
In my Mothering Sunday card, my son wrote, ‘This is your time now, Mum.’ He meant that now the period of looking after elderly parents is now finished I can make plans. It takes deep breaths to try to get used to the idea — and, very much a homebody, I have no wanderlust.
To me, sheer bliss is found on the old sofa with husband and three little dogs, and enjoying my new hobby of crewel embroidery while watching something excellent on TV. Easily pleased, you see.
Nevertheless, after not having a holiday since May 2019, we’re leaving the pooches in the capable hands of my son-in-law (the family still living with us while their house is refurbished) and packing the car with umbrellas and sun hats to head off. So next week this column will be absent and re-gathering its energy. Where? Why, England, of course. Nowhere so beautiful in May.