Dear Mrs. Bluth,
We are in the midst of a family crisis and desperately need your insight. I’m under a great deal of stress, so please bear with me as I do my best to explain our situation.
I am the middle child with three sisters and two brothers. Our parents raised us with a lot of love and strong sense of the value of family and unity. However, our home was not an affluent one, and though my parents tried to give each of us the same material things, it did not always happen. Growing up we often bickered over who got more of what. That being said, five of us grew up to be adults who love each other and treasure our family relationships. One brother seemed to keep himself apart from us, but we never focused on it. Both our parents worked hard so that we could all get degrees and follow paths we had chosen.
Some time ago, my father inherited a business from a friend who died without family, and was able to grow it into quite a substantial empire. Our mother, two of my sisters, one brother and I all joined him in the business. Over the years, my sister, who served as the company’s bookkeeper would notice small discrepancies, for example, checks being written for items that were unaccounted for. When she would ask my father, and he couldn’t remember if he wrote the checks, she would let it go – they were small amounts. However, the checks got bigger and pretty soon we were being audited. My father became ill over the stress and seemed to decline rapidly.
At some point, the only conclusion we could come to was that my brother was the cause of the problem. While he worked with us, he had married and we did not have a great relationship with him and his wife.
Why did we suspect him? He did all the purchasing for the company.
We held a family meeting, including the siblings not in the business, and my mother and decided that we have to make some changes. My brother is no longer in the business and we do not speak to him.
In the interim, my father had a massive heart attack and is not doing well. On a recent hospital visit, he told us all – the brother whom we are sure has stolen from the buinsess was not there – that he did not want this brother to sit shiva for him when he dies. We were shocked and are trying to talk him out of this, but he is asking us all to promise that we will do our best to make this happen.
Mrs. Bluth, how are we supposed to honor our father’s last wish when we have no contact with this brother? What are we supposed to do if he insists on sitting with us when that time arrives?
I am so sorry for you on so many levels. It is always heartbreaking when a family is fractured and brother stands against brother. The pain parents feel when they see the tight-knit unit they worked so hard to build shatter because of one child’s alienation is beyond comprehension. Certainly, the work of a wife could well be the cause of this malcontent, but your brother should have seen through this and not sacrificed his relationship with the rest of his family.
You have put forth a question that has two parts, the religious requirement and the ethical one. So, since I cannot answer the religious one without consulting a rav, I will try and offer up alternative options that may satisfy both dilemmas. Your father, sadly, is very ill and feels he has little time left. I assume he is also under heavy medication to ease his condition and minimize his physical discomfort in his final hours. This may be contributing to his ability or inability to think clearly and make sound decisions – and his request may well be influenced by this.
On the off-chance that your father does indeed forbid this brother from sitting shiva with the rest of his family, the choice may well fall under the heading of “Kibbud Av” and you may have to speak with your brother about this when the time comes. However, if his wife is really a problem, they may not want to sit with all of you anyway.
I am hoping something miraculous will happen here, as it sometimes does, brought about by the realization that life is fragile and short. Perhaps this impending tragedy will be averted and your father be given a heavenly reprieve and will regain some health and years. Or should the worst come to pass, this tragedy may serve to melt the ice and ease the bitterness and bring the family together.
However, the first thing you need to do is consult a rav for spiritual clarity and guidance, so that you do the right thing and let the Almighty take care of the rest. May your all take comfort in whatever transpires and find peace, and love within your united family.