Dear Amy: I’m wondering how to respond to people inquiring about your children when one of them died in the not-too-distant past.
My 35-year-old daughter died last summer, after a hellish battle with cancer. We are all, of course, still struggling with grief, though we’ve had great support and the impacts are diminishing over time.
My struggle is with questions like, “Do you have children?” “How many children do you have?” “How’s your family?” and similar questions that arise in casual conversation, or with people you’ve not seen for several years.
I don’t believe in an afterlife, so I don’t believe my daughter is still around, and using the present tense implies existence, so it feels wrong to me. And this is even worse when her 7-year-old daughter is with me: She knows that her mom is gone.
I never had to think about this before, and find it disturbingly confusing. Any advice?
Dear Grandpa: My sincere condolences to all of you. It can be excruciating to try to describe your life in a casual way when you are so very sad.
You don’t say how many children you had, so I’m going to say that (for instance) you had three. If people ask, “How many children do you have?” and you don’t want to discuss things deeply, you can say, “My wife and I raised three kids.” If you want to dip in a little more, you can say, “Our oldest, Gwyneth, passed away last year from cancer” (supplying the cause might spare you from more intrusive questions). If her daughter is with you, simply say, “And this is her awesome daughter and my granddaughter, ‘Cammy’!”
Without question, this is extremely challenging, but I hope that through time you may realize that for every awkward or even heartbreaking plunge into grief you might experience through spontaneous reminders, there will be many, many examples of kinship, kindness and comfort from people who have walked a similar path.
Dear Amy: I am a guy in my late 30s. I have a “good friend” of the same age who lives in a different city four hours away.
Our friendship appears completely one-sided, and doesn’t seem to move past texting. I only see this friend if I travel to see him.
He doesn’t get in touch, with the built-in excuse of being “busy.” Whenever I try to plan something other than me going to his city, I usually don’t get a response ... not even a, “Sorry, I can’t.” Just crickets.
He travels to see other friends and makes plans with other people often (I see his social media posts).
I am wondering if this is a real friend? Should I keep trying, or give up?
Annoyed in Ohio
Dear Annoyed: No, this is not a real friend.
This is a guy you happen to know.
Your contact with this person doesn’t lift you up and make you feel good. It makes you feel inadequate and insecure.
So stop. Stop while you still have your dignity. If his social media posts about his awesome life and other more active friendships trigger self-esteem hits for you, you should hide his posts from view. Do your best to turn your attention and energy toward other people who reciprocate in a more balanced way.
Dear Amy: “Caregiver” recently wrote to you regarding an elderly man with dementia and his granddaughter that moved in and “snuggles” with him in his bed every night.
Your advice was that she “must report this” to her supervisor and/or adult protective services and to “do the right thing.”
I was so appalled reading that advice. You, nor the caregiver, know what their relationship was like in the past, especially before the dementia. From the granddaughter’s perspective, she is losing a part of her grandfather. It may just be her way of showing love toward him and she’s obviously not trying to hide her behavior.
It sounds as though the caregiver feels threatened by the granddaughter’s presence and a loss of control. If the caregiver is truly concerned about this behavior, she should contact the son or daughter of this man who probably hired her.
This does not sound like elder abuse to me.
Dear Concerned: Others agree with you. However, I felt the tone of the question from “Caregiver” was reasonable, rational and based on professional experience. When a professional (who understands dementia) expresses concern, then yes, I believe she is compelled to do something about it, but I value your take.
Email Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org.