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Ask Ellie: To support family in health crisis, offer practical help

For example, if you live close enough, your kids could pop over after school to see if they need any help; and on weekends, you could offer to run any errands they may need done

Dear Lisi: My brother-in-law has just been diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease. We are all shocked. None of us thought anything was wrong with him.

He broke his arm biking in early spring and hasn’t gained back all of his strength, so he shakes in that arm. And now that we are looking back, we see that every once in a while, he forgets a word … but we all do.

He went to the doctor for a regular checkup and to check his arm, and this is what the doctor came back with. We are all in a state.

How can my wife, children and I support her sister, our brother-in-law, and their kids the best way possible? We are all very close.

Helpless and Helpful

This is a very sad situation for all of you. Anything degenerative is heartbreaking for everyone involved.

There is no one right answer for your question, but perhaps start with this: you and your wife sit down with your school-aged kids to discuss what you know, age appropriately with the children, and how you can each, and as a family unit, help out. For example, if you live close enough, your kids could pop over after school to see if they need any help; and on weekends, you could offer to run any errands they may need done.

Then bring a meal over to your in-laws and tell them that you’re there for them how and when they need or want you. Show them you care, but also let them have space to process. Offer up helpful suggestions, as discussed above.

But be prepared for emotions to run high.

Dear Lisi: My sister’s bestie is really into vaping. She’s a teenager but not old enough to buy it on her own. I don’t care what she does, but I tell her all the time I think she’s stupid.

I’ve read so many horror stories about people who vape who end up in hospital because their lungs collapse or worse. I’m so scared for my sister, but she follows her bestie everywhere.

Obviously, I can’t talk to my parents about this because they’d be so mad at her, and then she’d be so mad at me.

What do I do?

Scared Sissy

I’ve read those same stories and they scare me, too. You’re right to be worried about your sister. Research has shown that vaping contains large amounts of nicotine, which is a highly addictive drug, and vaping can cause serious lung disease.

You don’t say whether your sister is actually vaping or not, but I gather you’re worried she’s about to start. Have you shown her the stories? Maybe she doesn’t believe you and needs to see for herself.

You also need to talk to her — again, and again and again. She may tell you to leave her alone, and she may slam the door in your face. But just keep telling her that you won’t leave her alone because you’d rather she be mad at you then in hospital on life support.

Ask her if she really thinks her bestie is the best person to follow. That’s not what friends do — they don’t follow each other. Friends are supposed to support each other, make each other laugh, allow each other to be their most genuine self and feel safe in their company.

A friend who is dragging you along to the bottom of the ocean isn’t a true friend.

However, if she doesn’t stop, or seems to be getting even more involved, you must tell an adult.

Dear Lisi: My son’s friend did something thoughtless and his parents don’t know. He’s lucky he didn’t get beaten up or worse, but he ran and hid, and it was the middle of the night. My son told me because he was afraid for his friend, and really shaken up.

I know the parents, though we aren’t close. We parent very differently. I’m certain they would want to, and should, know. However, I don’t want to tell them. It won’t land properly from me. They’ll think I’m being judgemental. They wouldn’t be wrong.

What should I do?

Judge Jenny

The behaviour sounds serious and obviously frightening. I love that your child feels comfortable talking to you.

It sounds like you feel there needs to be a consequence.

Is there someone you know who is like-minded who could tell his parents in a way that would impress upon them the severity of the situation without being judgemental? A mutual friend, teacher, religious or community leader?

Unfortunately, we can only parent our own children and hope they make good decisions.

Ellie Tesher and Lisi Tesher are advice columnists for the Star and based in Toronto. Send your relationship questions via email:

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