Ask Amy: Years later, sibling struggles with brother’s suicide

Dear Amy: Many years ago, my brother missed a week of school, struggled to catch up, and then committed suicide.

In a note, he explained that he got a zero on a test because it was on him to make it up, and he didn’t get around to it in time, as he was overwhelmed with make-up work.

For the most part, I don’t think my parents are to blame here; they were not very strict about grades, though they did insist that we do our homework.

My niece is about to start kindergarten. I told my sister that if her daughter ever falls behind, it would be best to get her out of the regular classroom until she can get totally caught up (I don’t know to what extent this is actually an option).

My sister thought this sounded odd. I then realized that she likely didn’t know what led to our tragedy, as she was in college when our brother died, while I was still living at home.

I have not yet told her. I’m worried that she will blame our parents, or even try to track down the teacher who gave our brother the zero (I guess I could leave that part out).

Should I tell my sister now? Should I wait a few years, or until I hear about a problem involving school?

— Torn

Dear Torn: You are assuming that your brother died by suicide because he was overwhelmed with schoolwork.

I think you should train your focus outward and understand that there were likely many factors and perhaps additional triggering events that led to this tragedy.

And yes, I hope you will choose to talk about it with your sister, and tell her everything that you remember — not necessarily to influence her parenting, but because this is a primary event in the life of your family, and it is extremely important to talk about it.

When you have this conversation, you may learn that she has an entirely different understanding of the event. She wasn’t living at home at the time, but she may have insight that you lack, due to the difference in your ages.

Suicide remains a taboo subject in our society, but for survivor families there are additional layers of guilt and anxiety, in addition to their deep sadness.

It is simply overwhelming, and I intuit that you are still overwhelmed and somewhat trapped in the storyline of that long-ago trauma – because you are extremely worried now about your niece’s emotional and mental health, all tied to the pressure of schooling for a kindergartner.

Therapy would be a game-changer for you. I hope you accept this prompt to pursue it.

Dear Amy: I’m a millennial guy nearing 40 with about 10 years of dating experience before COVID hit. I found dating to be very difficult: time consuming, fairly expensive, etc.

After talking to friends and seeing others struggle with dating and relationships, I found many other people agreed.

The divorce rate is high, so I know many (if not most) marriages struggle, too.

One part of dating that I never liked was finding someone perfectly nice that liked me, but I didn’t like in return. I’m not a cold monster and hate hurting other people’s feelings.

I managed to find a girlfriend, but she dumped me for another guy then dumped him for another guy. I don’t want to have kids or pets either, so that’s not a priority.

Since COVID hit, I haven’t dated and have found life to be much easier in a way.

My question is: at what point should I just quit dating and embrace a monastic life?

— Anonymous

Dear Anonymous: The time to quit dating? Now.

Time to embrace a monastic life? Never — (unless living like a monk is truly what you want).

It is natural for you to choose the path of least resistance, but I think you should also take this opportunity to do some soul searching in order to figure out what kind of life you want to lead.

As an exercise, write your own obituary. What would you want it to say?

Dear Amy: I’m having a weird issue, but maybe you can help.

I really don’t like going to the dentist. I haven’t been in a good long while, and I know I should make an appointment — but I can’t bring myself.

Any ideas?

— In Need

Dear In Need: Have someone else make the appointment for you, and take you there, if necessary. Promise yourself a reward afterward.

(You can email Amy Dickinson at or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)

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