Ask Amy: Sibling haunted by mysterious mourner

Dear Amy: My father died 20 years ago after a long battle with alcoholism. At the time, he was separated from my mother and estranged from my younger brother.

I chose to maintain a relationship with him through the last months of his life when he was suffering from liver failure, and I forgave him for the pain he had caused our family.

My brother did not maintain contact, and I completely understand why he made that decision.

At my father’s memorial service, a “mystery man” attended.

He didn’t come through the receiving line, speak to anyone in the family, bring a card, or sign the guest book.

Several of my relatives remarked later that they wondered who he was, but no one had talked to him.

He was well dressed and young — maybe early 20s (slightly younger than my brother and I), so not of the age that you would expect someone to show up at a funeral if they were not connected to the deceased.

At the time, family members made awkward jokes that I might have a brother I didn’t know about. It was an open secret that my father had affairs in the later years of his marriage, so there was the possibility that he had another child from an earlier relationship.

I have wondered about him ever since.

Part of me has always wanted to know, and as DNA tests have become more popular I’ve considered using testing to see if I have another sibling out there.

However, I’ve never done it, mostly because I worry about the impact that a discovery would have on my mother and my brother.

I also worry that I will put myself through a lot of stress for nothing.

Should I let sleeping dogs lie? Or will I feel more peace if I look, even if I might not find anything?

If I do learn something, am I obligated to tell my mother and my brother, even if it might be hurtful to them? I would appreciate any advice you can offer to help me resolve my ambivalence and move forward (one way or the other) after all of these years.

— M

Dear M: Take this effort in steps, and make important decisions as you go.

Your father’s habits were known to many, so you might assume that both your mother and brother could anticipate that there are other siblings out there. Given the history you describe, this disclosure might hurt — but not surprise — your mother and brother. And even though you are prepared for this revelation, the reality might be hard for you too.

This lingering question has already caused you years of stress. My sense is that you need to know the truth.

Dear Amy: I am the youngest of four siblings — two boys and two girls.

I wasn’t particularly close with my brothers when we were young, but grew to have great relationships with them now that we’re older.

My brother’s wife has recently been diagnosed with cancer and the outlook is not good.

I have never been close to either of my sisters-in-law, and now feel quite awkward around her and at a loss for words.

I think about her and my brother a lot and want to be a comforting presence and do something for her, but I am at a loss.

I’ve made meals and things like that, but I don’t know what else to do.

Any ideas?

— Want to Help

Dear Want to Help: Acts of service might be the best way for you to provide help and comfort. I suggest that you contact your brother and sister-in-law and offer to drive her to treatments, clean their house, mow the lawn, and provide meals — whatever they would find most helpful.

It is important that your sister-in-law also be allowed privacy, if that’s what she wants or needs right now.

If you can’t find the words or don’t know what to say, I think it’s always best to just admit that.

Dear Amy: I absolutely adore your response to “Paramedic,” who wondered if he should go to Australia for a six-month job opportunity, or stay with his controlling girlfriend: “Take the job, ditch the girl.”

I wish I could give my younger self a few versions of that clear and direct advice.

— Brad

Dear Brad: Thank you! This was yet another time when knowing “The Godfather” by heart has provided a handy inspiration for an answer (“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”)