Dear Thelma: Since my brother died, my family has been in shambles


  • Family
  • Sunday, 12 May 2019

I shall begin my story from where I believe all the problems started in my family.

I’m turning 24 this year and I have a brother aged 25. My eldest brother is four years older than me and my parents are retired. I’m currently working and I’m the only daughter in the family.

My eldest brother was diagnosed with cancer shortly after he graduated from secondary school. He battled the disease for a long time. My mother was the main person taking care of him.

My eldest brother had a short temper, a mean personality and was very ungrateful towards his family. Even when he was facing cancer, he didn’t appreciate the things we did for him, especially my mother. He said and did things to my mother that made me resent him a lot.

His attitude also made my brother and father give up on him. It was a long and gruelling journey – that’s a story for another day – but the outcome is it has strained the relationship among my family members.

My eldest brother passed away in 2017 and the relationships between my family members continued to get worse. When my brother was battling cancer, my father worked overseas. He eventually retired and came back home. He helped my mother in taking care of my brother at first, but stopped when he had enough of my brother’s attitude. He also started to ignore my mother and called her “naggy”.

I did not agree with his ways but I understood his frustration with my ill brother. I also don’t think he should have just left everything to my mother like that.

Now that my brother has passed away, my father still doesn’t talk to my mother unless it’s extremely important. I really don’t understand why he’s treating her badly when all of us didn’t ask for the terrible things that has happened. He just chooses to ignore everything.

I believe my other brother has depression, but we haven’t gotten him diagnosed yet. He can’t handle stress and crumbles easily during hard times. He can’t hold a job for long because eventually the stress of the job will get to him. He would then refuse to eat, talk and just be depressed.

My father, once again, has given up on his other son; he refuses to speak to him too. This leaves me as the only person my father speaks comfortably to.

Lastly, my mother is the strongest woman I know. Despite all the troubles thrown her way, she faces everything bravely.

Sometimes, she doesn’t fully understand what’s going on, but she tries to mend this family. She really tries, but it hasn’t worked so far.

I, on the other hand, am caught in the middle of this mess. I’m the only person in this family who can speak to everyone, and it’s such a stressful situation where I have to hear all these problems from my parents.

I want us to be a family again, but I’m also tired and annoyed by all these problems. My mother and I want to seek help. We want to help my brother get over his depression, and I want my father to stop ignoring our family. But we don’t know where to look for help.

I hope you can guide us. Even if you don’t have the solution to our problems, please direct us to someone or somewhere that we can go. I hope I’m not asking too much, thank you.

Tired and disheartened

I’m so sorry to hear this; what a sad and difficult situation. It’s no wonder you’re all exhausted and stressed.

First, let’s talk about your brother. As you are describing some very dark emotions, I strongly suggest that you talk to a psychiatrist, that is a medical doctor who specialises in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.

You can find these doctors at a public hospital or you can see a private one. He or she will diagnose your brother and will discuss if he needs or wants to try medication.

The thing about depression is that taking medicine can be super effective all by itself. However, many people also work with a therapist or psychologist at the same time. These other professional mental health practitioners will help your brother talk through his feelings and to manage his emotions and behaviour more effectively.

In Malaysia, the titles for mental health professionals are a bit random so it’s the education you need to look for. A good pro has a Masters Degree in Psychology or Counselling from a respectable university that includes at least 300 hours of practical supervised clinical work. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. The pros will be happy to explain their credentials.

Second, you and your mum will find a therapist or psychologist useful. Do make separate appointments because you will have different goals. For example, you may want to work on unresolved feelings of anger and guilt as well as effective techniques for coping with stress in your daily life. Your mum though, may want to focus on how this disaster has affected her, her marriage, her life goals and more.

Third, your dad could do with some help too. I suspect that poor man is devastated. He has lost a loved child and he is likely feeling guilt, anger and helplessness. From your letter, it sounds as if he disengaged out of over-stress. That is very understandable and it must have been heartbreaking.

For your dad, a mental health professional would do the job but if he’s not into that, you may look for a religious person like a priest, monk or mullah who is well skilled in helping people find peace. That takes a lot of tact and love, so look around and choose very carefully.

If he refuses, you will have to respect his choice but don’t let it stop the rest of you getting the help you need.


Is something bothering you? Do you need a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on? Thelma is here to help.  E-mail star2.thelma@thestar.com.my or write to Dear Thelma, c/o StarLifestyle, Menara Star, 15, Jalan 16/11, 46350 Petaling Jaya, Selangor. Please include your full name and address, and a pseudonym. No private correspondence will be entertained. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, usefulness, fitness for any particular purpose or other assurances as to the opinions and views expressed in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses suffered directly or indirectly arising from reliance on such opinions and views.


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