Guardian by
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I never thought we’d lose touch or become estranged from good friends,   but sadly it happened.   (See The Gs and Malcolm

But it seemed inconceivable that in our own family there’d be an estrangement,  but tragically that happened as well.

In the early 1990s my sister Laurie married Andy,  and at the time they seemed a good match – both were post-docs working at the National Institute of Health in Rockville,  Maryland.

We lived in different states and we didn’t see them very often,  but when we did we found Andy a bit strange,  and as time went by we became aware of his dismissive manner and short fuse.

But my sister seemed happy and so I tried not to dwell on my growing unease when around Andy.   And when my nephew Michael was born Laurie and Andy seemed very happy,  and the family rejoiced.   But tragically at age two Michael was diagnosed with autism.

The family rallied with advice and recommendations for professionals who could help,  and offers of our time and energy,  even financial help to pay for special services.   But Andy spurned all our suggestions and offers of help.    Luckily they lived in a county that had a good special needs program in the public schools so at least Michael had that advantage.

Then the double whammy –  my sister was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis,  her health spiraled down rapidly,  and soon she could no longer work.  And then rather than showing gratitude for our offers of further help and support,  Andy made it clear they were unwelcome.

Then Andy himself had a heart attack,  was hospitalized,  and my sister – by then completely helpless and bedridden –  was taken to the hospital by Adult Protective Services.   With her husband temporarily incapacitated I was able to stand as her medical surrogate.  Then I applied to the court to be appointed as her legal guardian,  and at the trial the judge ruled that Andy’s misguided decision to keep her at home and “treat” her himself was actually an act of negligence bordering on abuse. The court granted me Laurie’s guardianship.

When she was stable enough to leave the hospital we moved her to a wonderful nursing home where for the last two years of her life she was under the care of a competent medical staff and eventually a compassionate hospice team.  (See Take Care of Your Sister and Look for the Helpers – for Laurie)

Since Laurie’s death we visit my nephew Michael in Rockville as often as we can.   He now lives in a wonderfully run group home for special needs adults where he is thriving.

The last time I saw my brother-in-law Andy however was at my sister’s funeral,  and I chose never to see him again.


– Dana Susan Lehrman

Profile photo of Dana Susan Lehrman Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!

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Tags: Guardianship, Siblings, Sisters
Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. Jim Willis says:

    They say that when two people marry, they don’t marry the family; just their betrothed. But boy does that not mean the family isn’t affected by that marriage! Most of us don’t want to get in the way of our kin’s happiness, so we keep our mouths shut when the engagement is announced even though we are seriously questioning it inside. Your story reminds me that silence is not always that golden when we perceive danger ahead for our loved ones. I remember once, though, I did get candid with my sister in such a time, and it could have cost me my relationship with her, at least for a time.

    • Thanx Jim.
      Thinking about my sister’s life I have many regrets. Could I have altered the course of events had I been more candid?
      And once we knew how ill she was, could I have forced an intervention for her to get the medical attention she needed?
      I’ll never know.

  2. Khati Hendry says:

    This is such a sad story! But you did step in when it was possible and made a huge difference to your sister and your nephew. So painful and really impossible to know how to negotiate these difficult situations, but you were there for them in the end. Beautiful picture of Laurie.

    • Thanx Khati, I know I did all I could for Laurie but will always have regards I didn’t act sooner.
      Legally my hands were tied as her husband was her next of kin, but could I have forced an intervention earlier? I’ll never know.

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