London - Dear Bel, I need advice about my younger brother. There are just two of us; my mother was widowed in 1988, I married in 1990 and moved away locally, while my brother (who has a good profession) bought a house but continued to live with my mother. He is not good at house maintenance, so my husband and I did it all, me visiting every day.

My brother and mother drank too much and he became an alcoholic. He seemed to save his anger and frustration for me. He wouldn’t, or couldn’t, do anything, except cook a meal or shop for food - as long as he hadn’t had a drink.

I pleaded with him to get professional help, but he told me to mind my own business. I think mom was afraid of him - we all had to be careful of what we said and did.

In 2010, mom died. There was no will, we were joint executors. My husband and I couldn’t care for two children, look after our house, work and look after my brother, so I spoke to him about the next move.

I wanted to buy him out of mom’s house, but couldn’t get him to agree on a figure. I paid £500 for a survey and £500 for a valuation to give him confidence that I was not trying to cheat him. He was difficult. Then there was a burglary at the house - he was horrified - and I had the windows replaced to improve security, pursued insurance for his stolen watch and so on.

He took the money, but wouldn’t come to an agreement. My husband was furious.

After three years I spoke to a lawyer, thinking he might listen to a fellow professional. I stopped proceedings, then he reverted to the old game of agreeing to sell and changing his mind, so finally I had to take him to court.

He was urged to accept the “generous offer” - and finally left, after five and a half years, with everything he could get into a removal van, including presents I’d given my parents that he had always called ridiculous and revolting. The house was in a dreadful state. I have sold part of the garden in order to renovate it.

My brother is living in his own house, but I feel I’ve failed and let my parents down. Could I have handled it better? The harder I tried and the more helpful I was, the worse it got.

I have a precious family of my own, but can’t bear thinking of my brother growing old alone and drinking himself to death.

How can I deal with these feelings? Or recover him?


Your original e-mail was much longer, with enough detail to convince me that all through this sorry saga you did your best to look after your mother’s interests, even when that was difficult, and that at no point have you been motivated by greed.

What’s more, you are not the first person to be cursed with a problematic sibling; nature often arranges it so that peas in the same pod are unalike. I have personal knowledge of how agonising, yet infuriating, that can be.

Here we are, a long seven years after your mother’s death, and you have been driven to distraction by your brother’s behaviour.

After doing everything to take care of your mother, the house and him, it was hardly your fault that he became an alcoholic and lost his job. He treated you abominably, yet you are worrying about him, fearing a lonely future for the man who once moaned that he had no friends.

I feel touched and impressed that you should write with a wish to “recover him”. I’d like you to think hard about why you feel so guilty.

Is it because you know your parents would have been devastated to think you would take your only brother to court?

Surely they would have been equally upset to know he had treated you badly?

This man had a house to go to, after all, and you had every right not to allow him to squat in the shared property he allowed to fall into disrepair. What choice did you have in the end? You have two children to think of: this property is surely their step on the ladder towards an inevitably expensive future. Your own family has to take precedence over a younger brother who may well have been spoilt as a child.

I can only give you the advice I so often repeat that living a mature, balanced life usually involves accepting things we cannot possibly change. You can’t make your adult, educated brother get help for his drinking, conjure up friends and loves.

What you can do is write a good letter (keeping a copy) and assure him that, for the sake of your parents, you will always be there if he needs you - although not for financial reasons.

You can make sure your children send him a card for his birthday and Christmas, and offer to visit him from time to time (maybe bearing a stew) if that’s what he’d like.

Just that offer would count as forgiveness in my book. Choosing to turn his back on you and your family will be his choice.

Having done that, I believe you will have fulfilled your duty. Please don’t waste time worrying about the recent painful price, but renovate your mother’s house, sell it for a good price if you wish and make sure that action is a symbolic step towards the future.