Category Archives: Family & Celebrations

Feeling Judged

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My family is not particularly close. My brother and sister haven’t
spoken in decades for reasons I understand. I speak to both, though I
enjoy my brother and tolerate my sister. He and his wife just
relocated. They’re about seven hours away by car and a half-day by
plane, as opposed to across the country. I see plenty of them on Face
Book and when we play cards online, but have no particular interest in
spending a week or even a weekend visiting. It’s not just their two
slobbery dogs. We don’t share enough to strengthen the relationship
and we are both fine the way it is. I have a new friend, whom I like in
most respects, but she is very judgmental about how my brother and I
relate. She comes from a very large and close-knit family. How can I
convey that our family values are just fine for us?

Feeling Judged

 
Dear Feeling Judged:

The opening of Anna Karenina is cited in psychology as much as
literature: Happy families are alike. Every unhappy family is unhappy
in its own way. Your family has found a way to be happy that is
different than her family. If it works for you and your sibs, it is
intrusive and rude for her to suggest that your family be like hers.
But it does raise the issue of what happens when we make new
friends. We get very used to being ourselves. When we connect with
new folks, whether it is through dating or a social friendship, we tend
to exchange stories about our lives and history through which others
learn who we are. We cannot control their opinions (except perhaps by
shading or concealing information) but we can control how we let their
judgments affect us. She may have questions about your sibs that are
worth considering. But if she is respectful, she will accept your
answers as right for you. If not, she may not be the right friend for
you.

Fierce

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Am I being over-protective and possessive? My son and his fiancé
were visiting for the holidays and one of my friends texted my future
daughter-in-law (whom she knows only through me and sees in a
group setting maybe once a year) asking for “a favor” (delivering a
large bulky item to the city where they live, two hours away). I
suspect she knew my son would say No so she approached the fiancé
directly without asking me if it was okay, and it ended up messing up
my time with the kids. I’m angry and feel like she took advantage of
them but I don’t know how to express it without blowing up at her. Is
there a nice way to say “Back off of my time with my family!”???? For
the record, I’m a former attorney and have been told that people that
I am:

Fierce

 
Dear Fierce:

If your son and his fiancé are old enough to marry they are old enough
to know how to politely say No thank you if they feel like they are
being exploited. There may or may not have been a direct correlation
between doing the favor for your friend and their time with you, or
they may have been happy for a reason to leave early for home. But
even if doing the favor harmed you a little, you should: (a) be kind to
them for helping her out, and (b) refrain from being fierce with her
when you ask her why she chose to accomplish her delivery using your
son and fiancé rather than other people, a delivery service, or
delivering the item herself. If they didn’t see it as a big deal or
perhaps wanted a favor chit from your friend in return, you should
respect their adult decision-making. Good friends are hard to come by,
and it’s not worth picking a fight unless you’ve been damaged in a
more significant way. In the spirit of the season spread kindness
rather than anger, and light rather than darkness.

Finally Happy

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Long complicated story made very short: Abusive first marriage.
Divorce. Fabulous year with husband #2. Perfect son born. Everything
crashes to disaster one year after his birth with second husband’s
brain cancer diagnosis. Horrible five years until he dies. Single
parenting. Remarriage to a good guy but my son who is angry about
losing his dad decides the new stepfather is “abusive.” I know abuse
and this was not not not, rather strict parenting for a kid headed down
the road to slacker-dom and pot addiction. A decade later, the family
is intact but my son has discovered his birth father’s journals in the
attic, somewhat unreadable because of his declining mental capacity.

 

He tried to transcribe them but could not read his handwriting and now
has asked me. I started, and originally found them fascinating, in part
because Dave’s parenting hopes and goals ironically seemed very close
to the step-father’s, but also disconcerting because he wrote about
things he never shared with me. When I got to the diagnosis and
decline section I had to stop. How should I proceed? I could tell my
son they were illegible (almost true), show him the parts that I did
translate which might help him reconcile with his step-dad, or pay a
stranger/professional (which requires borrowing money for which I
have a list of alternative uses). What say you?

Finally Happy

 
Dear Happy:

Many folks need more than one try to get marriage and parenting
right. I’m sorry for your tragedy with husband number two, who
sounds like he was a fabulous husband and would have been a great
parent. I agree with you that it’s important to educate your son about
the values he would have been raised with had his birth father not
succumbed to cancer. Even if life circumstances had been different
those parenting plans might have changed, but their congruence with
your third husband’s values are an important message for the young
man, especially if he hasn’t yet found his footing in adulthood.

 

 

I’d suggest sharing the journals in small bite-sized pieces, with each of
you doing your best to transcribe a section and then trading the
original and your attempts, followed by sessions to talk about the
content. After you do this once or twice you should have a longer talk
about his perceptions of parenting, and his father and stepfather. As
his long-term parent you owe it to him to provide the guidance that
you now have the safety and security to offer. Maybe his deceased
father’s voice will help.

Sober and Gentle

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Do you have any good advice for dealing with the drunken relative at a
family party? This time it is Thanksgiving, but next month will be
Hanukkah, and next year will be two B’nai Mitzvah’s, so this is a
problem we need to face, and believe me we are a family what is
adept at doing everything but facing things. We have an uncle who is
angry, depressive, and alcoholic. He starts off as a sullen drunk but
the more he takes in the noisier and angrier he gets. We’ve tried
everything we can think of, but virtually every family event we can
recall has him storming out in a huff and the rest of us looking at one
another in dismay. Is there a gentle way to avoid this?, short of not
inviting him, which is always tempting but highly impractical, given the
memory of our deceased mother.

Sober and Gentle

 
Dear Sober and Gentle:

In eons past, or in multi-generational families, the burden of delivering
the hard message would fall to the eldest cogent patriarch, who would
with all solemnity sit the offender down, explain what rules of
propriety have been broken, suggest appropriate penance and
apologies, and all would be well, or at least the ground rules would
have been made clear. In this day and age there is no such traditional
model to fall back upon, so everyone has to become empowered to
speak truth to the offender.

 
Short of a full intervention, the message might get lost. In this case
my vote would be for a team of adults, say the parents of the B’nai
Mitzvah children plus one older yet generation adult if such a person
has any authority to invite the uncle to a meeting. Say the family has
lived with his rude behavior too long and they have decided to set
limits. If he will go into treatment, they will support him emotionally.
But in or out of a formal program, at the first sign of disruption he will
be immediately escorted out of the event. If he can comply for
holidays before the BMs, he will get an invite. Otherwise he will not,
and the rule will apply from this moment forward. At the very least
you will get his attention.

Earplugs?

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Please help me with the strategy for Thanksgiving, which is coming up
faster than I think I can handle. My sister, with whom I’ve always had
a very good relationship, is married to a jerk, not to put too fine a
point on it. He’s a lawyer. He’s double rich: he comes from money and
he’s earned a lot more of it. He serves on the temple board, the
boards of various nonprofits, and is a partner in a firm with his name
on the letterhead. He is convinced, convinced to the point of absolute
unreason, that his opinion is right on every subject, from child rearing
to presidential politics. And he will be first, last, and loudest to tell you
why he is right and you or anyone else is wrong. It’s not so much that
I disagree with him on everything, but that I cannot abide the way he
needs to have the last word and put everyone else down in order to be
the most right. Help. Short of not attending a family tradition do you
have a way of coping that won’t end up in acrimony, a bloody nose, or
lots of apologies.

Earplugs?

 
Dear Earplugs:

Earplugs sound tempting even to me, but the bounds of propriety and
your relationship with your sister suggest that donning them is not a
good idea. I’ll assume for the moment that there are other relatives
invited, and that their response to your brother-in-law, perhaps more
mitigated, is similar to yours. I’m not suggesting you start a gossip
war, but if you could find at least one ally you could divvy up the
range of topics and tag-team him in terms of who responds and rebuts
first, and last. That way there is no specific antagonism between you
and him. The more allies, the more you might succeed, the way a
swarm might befuddle a larger predator.

 
You might also take your sister aside before the event, and tell her
how troubling her husband’s behavior is. It’s hard to believe she’s
clueless or indifferent, given that she likely sees lots more of it than
you do. Ask her what works, and how she feels it’s OK for you to
respond if you disagree with him. If worst comes to worst simply leave
earlier or go into the kitchen for a side conversation with a relative you
genuinely like. Once the room he is in is empty, maybe he’ll get the
message.

Helpful

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My godson has had a rough time figuring out what he wants to do with
his life since he got out of rehab. He got a job in a restaurant. Nothing
fancy, just a sous chef chopping vegetables, prepping plates, and
learning the basic of the trade. Then he got a bout of cellulitis, which
made it impossible for him to be on his feet. His mother, now more of
an ex-friend than a close one, decided to “teach him a lesson” because
he had not signed up for health care. She told him he would be
responsible for all his medical bills, so of course things got worse when
he stalled on a doctor/ER visit. I heard about it mid-week, offered to
pay for his doctor bills, and now he is recovering, and even got his job
held till his return. She is telling our mutual friends about how I
“interfered” with her parenting. I clearly see this very differently. I
know gossip is hard to fight. But what should I do?

Helpful

 
Dear Helpful:

Teaching moments are important but generally we think of them as in
the non-life threatening side of the spectrum. If your godson really
had a medical issue that could have cost him his job, let alone his leg,
you were correct to step up and offer to help. His mom was wrong,
and could have found a better way of accomplishing her goal (e.g.
paying for the bills as a loan). We could talk all week about what’s
wrong with the medical industry in America, but when someone you
love is sick, you help them, and worry about the teaching moments
later.

 
You may never hear what is being said about you. But if you do,
simply reply: I love Godson-name. He was in trouble and I stepped up
to help. I’m sure Mother-name meant well, but given what he has
been through already, I thought it best to support his recovery in
every way I could. I’m happy to talk to her about it, if she’ll stop being
angry and gossiping about me. I suspect whatever moved this
relationship from close enough to be a godparent to ex-friend is deep
and profound. You don’t say how long ago it happened. Focus on
helping your godson unless momma really wants to talk to you.

In the Middle

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My husband is a pretty good sport about how often his in-laws come to
visit. Luckily for him (or perhaps by design), his sales job often means
he is travelling when they are around, so I get lots of family of origin
bonding they get lots of quality time with the grandkids, and none of
us have to put up with his obvious discomfort around them. He is
Jewish while they are not, and though I never thought of them as
bigoted, I am uncomfortable with how often they ask “How do your
people do such-and-such” which they do regardless of how often I
have asked them not to. Our firstborn is turning eleven so they have
had plenty of time to learn. This trip he will be in town the whole time,
and I am looking for ways to keep the peace. Ideas?

In the Middle

 
Dear In the Middle:

Any household with extra guests is surely in need of additional errands
to be run, to the grocery for example, which would get your
beleagured hubby out of the house. If your son is eleven he might
already be in training for his B’nai Mitzvah, and you could consider
inviting the in-laws to services. I suspect they would decline but it
would make the point that this is a Jewish family, not just an outsider
who married their daughter.

 

 

I recommend that your husband take the kids with him on some of the
errand runs, and to a movie, miniature golf, or just to the gym or the
mall. Keep it civil and do your best to retrain them. Bigotry is ugly the
closer you get to it.

Nana

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

One of my dearest hopes has come true: my granddaughter has come
to live with me for the summer. She is a delightful young woman of
sixteen, intelligent and creative, but sadly she also suffers from a set
of symptoms that make it unpredictable when she will become faint,
weak, and need to take a long rest. It is hard to diagnose and treat
but the doctor recommended that she join me for my morning aqua-
robics class, because the exercise will be good for her and I will be
around to supervise any emergencies. I need the class for my own
medical and go six days a week.

 

In addition, my physical therapist has
added a workout on a specific machine that is surprisingly popular at
the gym. Before Sarah came I was leaving early to get access to it.
That means leaving the house 6:30 latest, which is still a sprint. I
don’t have time to coax a reluctant teenager out of bed, and the
struggle is not helping our otherwise good relationship. We have only
one car. Though she has promised to use it later and go to the gym, in
a week of staying with us she has accompanied me once and gone on
her own only once. That’s not what I promised her mother. Can you
help?

Nana

 
Dear Nana:

It’s time for a family meeting. That means not just you and your
granddaughter, but also your daughter via Skype. I suggest a
discussion with your daughter beforehand, not to alarm her but to
establish what will constitute appropriate agreements and
consequences for failure to comply with the agreements. Teenagers
are notoriously balky about both getting out of bed (and even some
adults might bristle at leaving the house at 6:30) and also complying
with what might seem like reasonable health measure if they are
externally imposed. Hopefully you and momma agree about the
proposed schedule, and that all of you want your granddaughter with
you enough that the threat of returning home will be a sufficient
incentive.

 
Let her air all her “grievances” and excises first and try to listen
respectfully. Then state clearly that the terms of her visit had been
verbal not written, but for her to continue to be in your care requires
adherence to her exercise schedule, as well as whatever other house-
related agreements re helping with cooking, cleaning, shopping etc
seem reasonable. Ask if she wants to stay given those boundaries. And
then act accordingly. A sign on the fridge that says, The gym bus leaves
at 6:30 will reinforce your point.

Struggling

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

How can I forgive my parents the damage that I realize they inflicted
on me? Not just with the obvious impacts of living in a household
organized around parental alcoholism but also because they made me
think I was “a bad girl,” a characterization I realize that I took in much
too deeply. I’m not. But at age 35 I can still hear their voices.

Struggling

 
Dear Struggling:

We all get told many stories when were young. There are the ones we
think we’re being told, the ones we tell ourselves, and the ones others
(parents and more) act like are true even if they are far from who we
really are or think we are at the time. These stories all help shape and
define us even if they are stories we run away from me instead of
embracing. Some people’s stories were told with seeming love and
support, but got taken in sideways or in ways that people felt
constrained by having to enact them to satisfy family (e.g. my smart
son the future doctor, who might have preferred to play jazz clarinet).
Other people who have had bad stories beaten and raped into them go
on to become the most tender loving people, while others stay stuck in
pain all their lives. Inside we’re all battling some version of these
stories, regardless of how they were defined or delivered.

 
Every family is organized around some story. A parent’s mental
problems, alcoholism, abuse, fill in the blank. But whether the scarring
and stories come from ignorance or are willfully inflicted, part of
becoming our adult, healed selves is wrestling with them and coming
to our own understanding of who we really are. If you really want to
grow you will make it through this passage, on your own or with
trained help. But please distinguish between the stories that came at
you, and the better stories that you are making and have already
made for yourself.

 
Two practices of the High Holidays might help. Perhaps do a private
tashich ritual around this, and talk it out at a riverbank the way you
might in a therapist’s office. Then during the appropriate prayers, try
to forgive your parents, and also forgive yourself for ever believing the
stories they told that are not true for you. None of this is easy. But
you can become happier.

Earplugs?

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Help me with a problem with a relative and politics. We were
completely on opposite sides of most issues in the last election. This
caused unbearable friction in the family, most of whom are liberal
Democrats. But one cousin, the eldest son of the eldest son of my
grandparents, at whose home we tend to celebrate the big holidays,
because they are sill alive (!) and we love them both, is not just a
diehard conservative, but openly scornful of “fool and idiots” who have
social values different than his. We agreed on ground rules last year,
but as this new president (whom many of us consider a “fake
president”) has begun to attack institutions that nay of us hold dear
and even are employed by, the cousin has become emboldened again.
At Passover he took over the floor for long, pontificating rants that not
only were offensive but also disrupted the Seder. No one knew what to
do and we couldn’t just leave, though many of us wanted to. Finally my
grandfather said “Enough!” and he shut up, but honestly it’s enough
that there is talk in two generations about avoiding any gathering he
attends. Do you have a recipe for family unity?

Earplugs?

 
Dear Earplugs:

One rule can be: zero, absolutely zero, discussion of politics or the first
offender will be summarily ushered from the family gathering. You can
distribute a pledge form and ask every family member to sign it prior
to attending. Another might be to agree that it is okay to talk about
politics but not more than one sentence, or the person will be escorted
out. Another, which is not very democratic, would be to disregard the
one outlier person and say that since 90+% percent of the voting
members of the family agree on a point of view, no other opinion is
allowed to be heard. But that’s the kind of thinking that has brought
this country to our current political standstill, so I am not advocating
that solution.

 

 

Since autumn there has been a wave of listening classes that have
allowed split relationships, be they familiar or friendships, to heal by
learning how to talk about subjects they disagree on. It has worked in
places like Northern Ireland and South Africa, so I’m betting your
family could pull it off. Google to find some ground rules and see if you
can all get a lesson in living in a world that’s not a bubble. You are not
alone in this, and in many families it is akin to the US before the Civil
War, which is not healthy for any of us.

Second Fiddle

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I come from a big and generally loving family. The only time we sibs
(two gals, two guys) have problems is with competition, as in who
gives what gifts to parents, etc. But every year my sister tries to
upstage me at Passover. We have a family tradition of alternating first
and second nights. When she goes first she puts on such an
ostentatious display that my Seder feels small and average. She says
she cooks everything herself but I’m convinced she’s used a deli.
When she goes second she makes a point of outdoing whatever I have
done. It sounds petty, but if I make one dessert she makes two; if I
make two, she serves three. My brother is single and never has to
host. I know he loves us both, but he knows how competitive she is
and always compliments her profusely. It shouldn’t bother me but it
does.

Second Fiddle

 
Dear Second Fiddle:

Annoying relatives are one of life’s challenges. Silly or not, it’s clearly
gotten to you. A lifetime of sisterhood should have taught you that
you’re unlikely to change her personality. You could create a lot of
tension in the family by trying, but why? Instead, get into the true
spirit of Pesach and try to modulate the game. It won’t be as satisfying
in the short run, but in the longer one, you’ll be happier. Plus your
family will be more in tune with what the holiday is really about.
Bonus: if you master this lesson with your sister, other people will
have a harder time getting under your skin.

 
Passover is about liberation from mitzrayim. For the moment, consider
your personal mitzrayim to be a vulnerable ego and your sister’s
vanity. Since you’re not going to beat her at her own game, move the
goalpost. Instead of buying into perpetual one-upswomanship, strive
for simplicity, piety, and a hamish sense of family and warmth.
Compliment her for what she does well. Smile. Dig deep for sincerity.
Match it with your simplest best. Sparkle where it counts, from within,
and liberate yourself from this annual plague.

Hopeless and Helpless

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My 13-year old son has a very disruptive syndrome called POTS. You
can Google it but assume headaches, weakness, food issues, nausea,
exercise intolerance, temperature sensitivity (in both directions), heart
palpitations…the list is long It has disrupted his life for years but we
finally have a diagnosis. He is doing poorly at school, in part after
missing a few weeks after a bad fall. We tried a tutor (a retired high-
school teacher) but they did not get along. We are at our wit’s end and
are thinking of hiring a nanny. Money is not an issue, at least for the
next year or two till we get him stabilized and past what we fear might
be such low-self-esteem that he could become suicidal. Where do we
start? What do we need to in order to find the right person?

Hopeless and Helpless

 
Dear Hopeless:

You start by using a word other than nanny, because no 13-year old
male wants to be infantilized, regardless of his health needs. Tutor,
Buddy, Helper…find a word he can handle. Then summarize the
situation in a short document so that when you talk to people they
have answers to the questions anyone would want to about.
Re your son: What’s his personality like? What types of people does he
relate well/badly with? Does he have behavioral issues? If yes, what
sets him off/brings him back? How does he respond to authority? Does
he think he needs help? How does he relate to his condition? What is
his emotional state now? Is he in counseling? What is his medical
prognosis? Any idea if puberty makes it worse or better? Does he have
friends, peer group, girlfriend, etc? Does he have hobbies, interests,
focal points for engagement other than school? What subjects does he
need the most help in? Will he be in summer school?

 

Re the helper: What hours? Weekdays/weekends? What pay per hour?
Tutoring expectations and expertise? Subject area needs? Medical
training (even just first aid) and/or knowledge re timing/interventions?
Or just as simple as eat/drink now? Location? Car required? Mileage?
Additional useful skills?

 
I like the idea of a team approach. Have someone (perhaps you but
not necessarily) be a team lead and get your son engaged in the
process. You don’t want him to think he’s having an actual nanny.
Rather a cluster of supports, some slightly older role
models/tutors/college-aged, and also others to engage him in new
activities that will support self esteem (perhaps art or music?) and
even organize activities he can bring a buddy or two along on so he
feels less “different.” This a long-run challenge. I’m glad you have the
resources to help him.

Descendent

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Recently I went to a Yon HaShoah service for the first time. My family
has a complicated history. My great-grandmother was hidden during
WW2 with a Catholic family by her parents. All her living relatives
perished and for most of her life she did not tell anyone, including her
Catholic husband, that she was really Jewish. After his death, she
gathered her children (among them my grandmother), and told them
that she would not ask them to change how they lived their lives, but
to honor her own family, she would ask them to tell their own children,
when they felt the children were mature enough to handle it, about
their heritage to honor the memory of her departed and to keep
knowledge alive. I know in a world of increasing globalization,
intermarriage, and more complex identities that my story isn’t all that
unique. But I grew up not knowing much about the Holocaust and I am
not much of a history buff. Can you recommend some books that can
educate me please? I started with the movie Shindler’s List and that
was eye opening in a horrible scary way.

Descendent

 
Dear Descendent:

I have a ritual that I do every year for Yom HaShoah to honor the
many relatives on both sides of my family who were murdered. I think
it is a great place for you to begin, but be forewarned, for a very slim
book it carries a huge punch. Go to a bookseller or library and find a
chronicle of the Holocaust called The Seventh Well by Fred Wander, a
French Jew who was in 25 different work camps. That and Night, by
the social justice advocate Elie Weisel, are my two favorites for
intimate portrayals of day to day life in concentration camps. Another,
far more cerebral but very much about the 20 th century post-war
diaspora, is called The Lost, by Daniel Mendelsohn, a Yale humanities
professor, who tracks down survivors of a small Polish town that a
deceased great-uncle was from.

 

 

There is a wealth of Holocaust literature, movies, art, and memoir. It
is very easy to feel overwhelmed, because the scale of murder and
suffering was so great. In addition to educating yourself, be sure to
think about other people you know who might not have the same
family history but might be as ignorant and innocent as you might
have been without what you learned about your family. We must all be
vigilant to avoid allowing the rise of contemporary anti-Semitism, in
Europe but also right here in America, to create conditions where
being targeted simply because of one’s religion can be seen as
anything other than repugnant.

Not Moneybags

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

‘Tis the season of invitations and gift trolling. Many are for B’nai
Mitzvahs, which I recognize as an important rite of passage, though
some of these children turned 13 back in autumn, but apparently
needed the extra six months to learn the prayers and Hebrew. Some
are from colleagues for their children and others from seemingly
random synagogue members. The other half are about weddings,
which is a huge commitment and I honor (having failed myself). But
when I get an invite from second cousins in states across the country,
I feel more like I’ve been asked to contribute to the newlyweds’
coffers, and less like a valued relative. I‘m just your average middle-
aged, middle-class guy. I have family of my own that I support and
gift. What are the limits, beyond a polite No thank you?

Not Moneybags

 
Dear Not Moneybags:

Any invitation can be responded to with a polite note of No, thanks. I
wish you all the best, though it tends to be less blunt if accompanied
with some personal thoughts and good wishes enough to fill up a note
card. Only you can decide which of these to accept, but here’s some
baselines to consider, which can be augmented as much as you like for
people whom you genuinely love.

 
For B’nai Mitzvahs for children you do not personally know well, decide
on a book or two and give it with good wishes. I’d vote for something
about Jewish heritage, perhaps even a Holocaust memoir, and/or
something about Jewish values aimed at teens. You might even enjoy
sorting through the options. Then give exactly the same gift to each of
these young people, so there is no interpretive comparison.

 

 

For newlyweds, I give the same thing to each married couple, and you
are welcome to appropriate the ritual: a wooden soup ladle,
accompanied by a note about the importance of good nourishment and
nourishing communication as the key to a long-lasting relationship.
Again, for those you genuinely know and like, you can decide what
more is appropriate, even a cookbook or a stockpot.

Earplugs???

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My mother was diagnosed with a terminal disease three years ago. At the time
she was given “one to three” years to live. We all became very indulgent towards
character flaws that have been driving us crazy all our lives, especially one that
over the last few months of holidays was enough to taint many family gatherings:
She hogs all the air time. She talks, whines, blathers, opinionates, and pontificates.
She does not allow anyone else to speak for more than a sentence or two before
taking over the conversation again. I love her and don’t want her to
be gone. But this is driving a wedge in our family. Her new experimental
medication seems to be working so well that now the doc says she could go
another five years. I can’t. How can I tell her the rules have to change?

Earplugs???

 
Dear Earplugs:

Regardless of what you say, you will need to do it compassionately.
We’re all dying, but your mother is old enough (given that you have an
adult son of your own) that she lives with thoughts of mortality every
day, augmented by a terminal diagnosis. Sometimes people need to
hear their own voice just to reassure themselves they are still here. So
what may feel like an extra burden to you and your family is also part
of the process of being a kind person, and needs to be viewed through
that filter.

 
I’d counsel a one-on-one to start. Take your mother out for a ladies
lunch, in a nice restaurant where raising one’s voice would be very out
of place. Explain very simply that you are delighted that her treatment
is working and she will be among the living for far longer than the
doctors had originally projected. Then say, But I think that when we
were afraid we would lose you far too soon, we all got into some bad
habits, that for the sake of family congeniality I’d like to amend.
Explain that her current habit of dominating conversations has become
a social liability to you and other members of the family who are
beginning to shy away from time with her, the opposite of what you
and she presumably want. Suggest that she expand her social network
so she has other social outlets, and say you’re happy to give her tips
on being a good listener as well as a good talker.

 
Don’t expect her to be appreciative. She may even pull rank as your
dying mother. Continue to profess your love, and set up a cue word or
signal that you’ll use to alert her if she’s crossed the line. It will take
time, perhaps more than she has. So be kind.