Category Archives: Relatives

The Good Daughter

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My brother is addicted to pills, though will just get drunk if that’s all he
has. He has now lost her room in the house she was staying and her
fourth job as a nursing aide in a year. He relocated to my city to live
with our other, who is in the last stages of a terminal blood disorder,
though Mom has already outlasted the doctor’s predictions by almost
two years. Two points: (1) Mom is not supposed to drink, but often
they do that together; (2) David is “exhausted” from the move, and
wants to “take a month off to recuperate” before he looks for work. I
think he should not get a vacation but start putting out resumes today,
but both of them loudly told me off and said I was being “controlling
and judgmental.” I’m the responsible daughter who has to pick up the
pieces when they break things. Is there any way to avoid this train
wreck?

The Good Daughter

 
Dear Good Daughter:

In a word: No. You can try to ban alcohol from the house but addicts
always find a way to get their fix until they get clean and sober. You
can try to scare your mother with mortality, but if she’s already past
the doctor’s predictions she probably figures she can do as she
pleases, and who knows, maybe she is right. But it sounds like the
codependence will not help your mother as much as your brother.
Regarding the proposed vacation, your suggestion makes sense to me,
unless he needs the month to prepare for a pee test that would likely
be required to get a job. But even so, getting his resume together and
sending out letters and applications seems like a basic reality check to
reinforce the idea that he is there to help your mother, not live off her.
It might help to start with optimism when you speak to them, even if
you get heartburn and grit your teeth. But short of a miracle I think
you will be in this soap opera for a while.

Buttinski?/Not

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have a niece to whom I am very close. She has had three
miscarriages this year and just announced that she is “giving up” on
attempts to have a baby. I know she is under a lot of stress at work,
and that she and her new husband, who is a wonderful parent to her
eight-year- old from marriage number one, would be fantastic parents.
But their lives have been so overwhelmed with selling and buying old
and new houses, with work, and with attempts to get pregnant and
deal with the medical aftermath and the grief, that I think the odds
have been stacked against her. What can I say to help her realize that
it’s just too soon to stop trying?

Buttinski?/Not

 
Dear Buttinski/Not:

If you are truly “very close” and a regular confidante, you have the
right to talk to her about things that some couples might consider their
own private business. Timing matters, and so does tone, so you should
choose both of those very carefully. I’d suggest inviting her for tea and
talk. Start by telling her how concerned you’ve been about their very
hectic year, how much you love her new husband, and how happy you
are that her new family is blossoming, despite the setbacks with her
miscarriages. Encourage her to give the possibility of another child
another six-twelve months, after her life has settled down. And keep
telling her you love her and that when she is less stressed out, nature
may respond differently.

Seeking Family Fun

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m a nerdy middle-schooler who’s more into people than gadgets,
clothes, or social media. My parents got divorced five years ago when I
was in elementary school. Now they’re okay around each other, after
they each married another divorced person. Surprisingly, I like them
all. Holidays are complicated because of how many places everyone is
trying to get to. I like my new siblings, half-siblings, cousins, etc, but
it’s usually too hectic for any quality time. I was trying to think of an
idea for Hanukah that could help us be more of a family instead of a
crazy, jumble of busy people who I think might like each other if they
stopped running around and actually spent time together. Can you
help?

Seeking Family Fun

 
Dear Seeking:

Holiday gift-giving offers the perfect opportunity to accomplish your
goal. While you might not be able to get everyone together as often as
you want, you should be able to initiate a series of activities that will
generate energy and establish precedent for family fun. Get yourself a
stack of construction paper, some markers, glitter, and access to clip
art. Then design a series of gifts/invitations, targeting various
combinations of peers and parents. Your goal isn’t to match the exact
people who will become final participants with the activities you are
going to suggest. It’s to start a family conversation about the value of
playtime together, shared hobbies, adventures, and fun.

 

Think about activities you think would be entertaining and educational
to try together. They can be as varied as entering a family team in a
bowling league to participating in a volunteer effort like a Habitat for
Humanity build. Identify concerts that will happen in the next few
months, classes at the local parks and rec centers, and games that will
bring family together to laugh and bond. Make as many invitations as
you think people can handle. Mix and match who gets what. Encourage
people to trade off the invites, or to join in as many activities as they
want. Bring a calendar and write down the names of who wants to do
what. Then follow up gift-giving with email reminders of which
activities people are coming to, and remind them to put them on their
schedule. The more fun you make this, the more fun will follow.

Eeeek

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m terrified. I’m headed to Detroit tomorrow to have The Talk with my
82-year- old mother. She’s lived independently or semi-independently
her entire life. My father died when she was 50. For the last 10 years
my youngest sister has been living with her, but she’s ready to move
out and make her own life. My sister’s been a safety net for all of us,
making sure her mom took her meds, driving her to appointments
(Mom turned in her own license when she felt unsafe!) and generally
being around so none of us had to fear every ring of the phone. Mom
is intelligent, spry, and relatively healthy. Other than the fact that she
can’t drive she is very self-sufficient. But I know that could change in a
minute, and I live two thousand miles away, as does everyone except
my sister. How can I have The Talk, which every child dreads having
to have, to prepare for the inevitable living-in- a-group- setting, so we
don’t have to make rushed or bad decisions in a time of crisis?

Eeeek

 
Dear Eeek:

There’s no easy way for this one. Everyone dreads it, no matter which
side of the conversation equation they are on. And if she knows your
sister is planning on moving out, you know she knows that The Talk is
part of your visit. So she will likely be apprehensive and afraid, even if
she does her maternal best to hide it. Start out having as good and
casual a visit as you can, at least for the first day or two. Come from
the airport with flowers and plan to take her out for a special one-on-
one dinner. Try to assess how she’s doing without making her feel like
she’s under the microscope. Even if she knows the conversation is
inevitable and looming, she will be on her best behavior. But don’t be
surprised if tears follow. It is going to be hard, but it is important and
necessary to do.

 
Take the role of her advocate, as in: Mom, how do you want to handle
the future? What’s your idea of the best and safest way for you to live
after [sister name] moves out? Then listen. Don’t confront her, and
avoid pushing her into a place of resistance. She might surprise you by
saying she is ready, or that she knows a move is inevitable. Most likely
she will argue that it should be deferred. Listen to her arguments one
by one; see what makes sense and what doesn’t. Ask her if she’ll
come with you to one or two of the closest and best assisted-living
facilities that perhaps, God willing, one or more of her friends is
already living in. Help her see the better points about them and also
help her recognize that if she has a health crisis she could end up
somewhere far less optimal, and that planning is a far better process
than making a bad decision later.

 
You have a lot of homework to do to pull off the eventual transition.
Your local sister will be a big help in getting the house packed up and
decluttered. But you need to carefully assess financial resources,
weigh options, and learn about waiting lists and long-term treatment
options. There’s a big difference between an independent living
situation, and a facility that offer progressive “step-down” options
when your mother begins to fail. Assume that this process will take
three to six months and try to work with your local sister to keep her
involved. But the nest thing you can do is to make sure your mother
knows you love her, and that this is about keeping her safe and
healthy for as long as possible. The Talk should focus on care, not
punishment. Good luck.

Sis

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have a very dysfunctional sister. She is mentally ill though she has
never been officially diagnosed as such. She is a persistent abuser of
prescription drugs, which she manages to steal from work and/or
extract from doctors for various ailments. She’s a nurse, if you can
believe it, though is now working in a limited caregiver capacity in a
group home. Her life has been a declining series of tragedies
culminating in her losing her house. I went up to help her clean it and
move into a one-room rental in a friend’s home. When I saw her for
three days, I witnesed the level of her collapse firsthand. She slept in
till noon while I did all the practical things I could: dealing with movers
and a storage unit. I tried to explain to her how to post her valuables
on Craigslist, and gently alerted her future roommate that “she stays
up late ‘celebrating’”, without saying she is a pill-popping moocher. I
had filmed her with my iphone, high as a kite and dancing like a
madwoman in the middle of the night. I suspect it’s a drug interaction
from her random consumption of pills. She could die or have a seizure,
or she could end up a bag lady living on the street after she loses her
job because she treats the meds cabinet at work like a candy shop.
Also she is a shopaholic. I’ve lived a frugal life and always been a
responsible citizen. I know that some day I will get “The Call.” What
can I do between now and then? I do NOT want to take her in!!!

Sis

 
Dear Sis:

You are not going to be able to stop this train wreck. Your sister is
bound to be caught stealing meds, especially if she has an accident at
work. Just having her working in a group home could endanger the
health and sobriety of residents. One also has to wonder about the
level of supervision of both meds and employees, though turning her
in to her bosses exacerbates and hastens her and your inevitable
problems, rather than solving them.

You need a “come to Moses” meeting with her. You should tell her
everything you have observed, your fears, and, as hard as it may be
to do, your boundaries. I wouldn’t say you had filmed her, in part
because it will make her more cautious around you. But save the file
somewhere, in case you ever need to show a doctor or intervening
authority. You could threaten to tell her supervisor about her drug
habit if she will not voluntarily enter a program like Narcotics
Anonymous, go to regular meetings, and provide some kind of proof of
attendance. You should also insist that she meet with a financial
advisor, the type that helps people downsize debts, and put some kind
of long-term plan into action, including cutting off her credit spending.
Lastly, as hard as this may be to say, you need to tell her you are not
her final or financial safety net. Say that if there were an emergency
you would find her a group home but that you and your family cannot
do more. Suggest that she make plans with other family members who
may be more flexible or wealthier. Though she is unlikely to heed
much of this advice, you will have entered a new phase of relating,
and have had a conversation that you can reference as needed. But
ultimately, she will come to your door.

Daughter in Law

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I do not want you or your readers to hate me or think I am an unkind,
unfeeling, or horrible person. But I have lived in a small world of hurt
for the past sixteen months, after my mother-in- law moved in our
home, making it and my life a living hell. She is mean-spirited, sharp-
tongued, manipulative, nasty, ungrateful, unhappy, and generally
unpleasant. I have tried being solicitous, kind, friendly, helpful and,
when that failed, have occasionally tried to be more withdrawn,
leaving my husband to take greater responsibility for her care,
something he tends to avoid, out of a mix of denial, shame, fear, and
generalized reluctance to take care of household chores other than
repairs. She has the usual mental decline of age exacerbated by what
seems to me like selective memory loss, but I have become cynical.
Physically she would probably outlive both of us, especially with the
stress her presence is causing in our home and marriage. That’s what I
thought till last week when she fell, and in the ER was told she had
high blood sugar and needed more careful monitoring.

 

My husband and I had an almost three-week trip on the calendar, planned
long ago and over which we have no control of timing; it is go or don’t go,
leaving in a week. We had planned for in-home care but now have
decided to put her into assisted living while we are gone, so the docs
can get her more stable. The question is this: When we return, should
she stay there or move back with us? My argument: Her ailments are
intermittent but potentially serious; give her better care, which she
can absolutely afford, and give us a chance to remember we used to
like one another. My husband could go visit her daily (he recently
retired). His counter: She’s my mother; she doesn’t want to go there
are at all; it’ll use up our inheritance; I feel guilty. I am past caring
about money that may never come to us but she could use to improve
our lives now by paying to live elsewhere. What say you? Oh yes, PS,
I, who haven’t been sick three days since we married, have had a
series of week or two-week long flues and ailments in the past three
months. I know it is partially stress, but it has cut into my ability to
meet clients and earn our mortgage money.

Daughter in Law

 

Dear Daughter In Law:

Even the kindest, sweetest, most generous of soul and spirit addition
to a household can cause disruption and occasional aggravation. That’s
true when both partners are on board with what’s required for the
daily care and nurturing of an elderly parent. The difficult situation you
are describing, albeit with the relieved joy of a rant to an anonymous
reader, does not seem healthy or sustainable. It’s unlikely to prove a
peaceful and relaxing trip with the Sword of Damocles hanging over
your head about whether or not she returns.

 
When you communicate to her about any or all of this, be sure to
preface every other sentence with Your Doctor Says,…. as the reason
why she is going to assisted living. Be sure the staff reiterates that
medical necessity and her quality of health is the most important
variable that everyone is watching. The question of her return home
should be something that is discussed only in terms of her health and
no guarantees should be made that both you and your husband cannot
agree on.

 
The two of you will need to find a same page to be on. In this
circumstance, one of you is inevitably going to feel like a loser. The
only way of dealing with that is in some mediated forum, like a
counselor, where you can both speak your piece and feel heard. If she
does return to the home, you must be guaranteed time out periods,
perhaps even evenings or weekend time when you visit or even stay
with friends. Even if he uses some of his mother’s money to hire in-
home care, that will help your husband confront the truer impacts of
caring for her, something it sounds like he has avoided. If I were
voting I’d side with you, but I haven’t heard his version.
“For better or worse” sounds like it’s been bad for both and worse for
you, so in my book you have the right to ask for relief, both temporary
and long term. Either that or buy her or you a personality transplant.
And let me know where you found it so I can spread the word.

Feel Taken Advantage Of

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My 101-year- old aunt passed away in February. I was power of attorney and
executor of her estate. I’d helped her after being contacted by social services
when she was in her late 80s, because neither her brother nor her sister wanted
anything to do with her. I was warned to stay away by the family, who said she
was not a nice person. Very insulting, etc. She was my father’s sister, and even
he fought with her constantly. During that time I packed up her apartment and
moved her to a very beautiful, and very expensive, assisted living. She did not
get along with anyone. During this time I drove her to all her doctor, dentist,
gynecologist, colonoscopy appointments. I even had to change her diapers when
we went to some doctors. I moved her again. Same thing, and finally moved her
to a very good nursing home. Eventually she ran out of money. I was told to pay
for a prepaid funeral, as that was required for her to be on Medicaid. When she
died I was out of town. My cousin, who is ultra, ultra orthodox happened to be in
town. She called to tell me that she was taking care of everything. I asked that
she wait, but of course she went right ahead for a quick burial without consulting
me on costs that were not included. Now she wants me to pay almost $300
towards the funeral home and an additional $200 for the stone. I volunteered to
give her $100 and wanted to find out about a less costly stone. Do you think I am
obligated to pay any of these costs? Also when her family comes to town, they
eat like it is going out of style (at the restaurant) and NEVER offer to pay
anything.

Feel Taken Advantage Of

 
Dear Taken Advantage Of:

Your feelings are legit. They are also overdue. Your cousin’s family has
become so used to taking advantage of your generosity and good
nature that they’ve managed to forget your fifteen years of helping
out. My guess is that you have not done a good job of communicating
all that you have done during the past while, and that they got very
lazy and hazy about how things were being taken care of. But that’s in
the past.

 
The fact that your cousin made the arrangements without your
knowledge or consent implies she’s on the hook for all of it. Your offer
of $100 will not placate her, but I would send the check anyhow. If she
complains to the family and you hear about it, just remark quietly, I
wish I’d heard from them as much during all the years I was doing all
the care-taking and shlepping. That’ll end the complaints, and if it
doesn’t, you can still feel good about how you took care of your aunt.

Hellllllppppp

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have a deadbeat brother. He is 56 and has not held a job longer than
a year for as long as I can remember. He’s a gay man, with which I
have no problem, except that his entire life plan seems to be “finding a
rich, sugar daddy” to take care of him. Personally, as much as I love
my brother, a neurotic, poor, aging, and needy person is even more
unlikely to attract such an escape route than someone half his age,
never mind all the emotional unhealthiness of the plan at all. I just
want him to find a small simple job with regular hours, a regular
paycheck, and maybe even health and dental insurance. I’d like to
help him with the baby steps, but I don’t know how to begin. It’s all I
can do to put up with his whiney ramblings about life being too hard
and unfair. And at the risk of sounding callous, my husband and I have
worked hard for our own small savings, and I can’t risk my own
family’s future to be his ultimate life support, when he hasn’t done
anything to make things better.

Hellllllppppp

 
Dear Hellllpppp:

Every family I know of has at least one sib who is below the norm in
achievement and security. Each other sib has to face his/her
responsibility for helping out in times of crisis, and, like in your case,
helping avert those crises from occurring. If, in fact, your brother is
absolutely unwilling to act on his own behalf, you may someday have
to face the problem of taking him in or turning him away. But between
now and then there’s lots you can do.

 
Identify all social services in his community that he might be eligible to
approach. That’s everything from low-income housing to job training
services. Encourage him to make appointments at each place and find
out what he is eligible for in terms of direct support and assistance.
Work with him to look at social service agencies that work with low-
income people, places that have experiences teaching the realities of
life to those on the short end. If there’s some kind of gay community
center, ask them if they have special programs. Tell him you will no
longer listen to whiney, self-reinforcing, negative phone calls. ell him
to send you his resume when it is drafted, so you can help him edit it.
Ultimately you may have to say, I cannot be your final safety net.
That’s hard to do, but may be what he needs to hear to finally get
motivated.

Been Patient!

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

This is a long and painful question so please be patient. God knows I
have had to be. Recently we took my mother-in- law into our home.
She’d been living alone, though having seen her close up—albeit after
the shell shock of tragedy and relocation—it is hard to believe she was
functional. Her memory is going but she’s not so far gone as the don’t-
leave-her- alone-or- she’ll-burn- down-the- house-making- tea stage. But
she is insecure and needy, and thinks someone going out to get the
mail is “abandoning” her. My husband and I go to a three-week
spiritual retreat each April and October. This year I let him go, to
recover, and stayed home with Mom. He’s due back soon. I realize I
have a lot of anxiety about his return tipping the fragile equilibrium I
have created with her. She is very passive aggressive and will play us
off against one another. For example she calls him into her room each
morning to complain and even tell lies about me, and the whole day
starts off tense and goes downhill from there. Do you have any words
of wisdom to keep me from going crazy and wanting to divorce both of
them? This was a kind and happy home for twenty years.

Been Patient!

 
Dear Patient:

I don’t know what agreements you and your husband made before she
moved in with you, but now’s a great time to revisit them. You need
some alone time with him before he walks in the door to remind him
about your family values. Either meet him part of the way or use
phone and email. Tell him what you have observed about how to
manage her and what you think needs to be done to maintain the
equilibrium you spent three weeks creating. He may be coming home
more relaxed but the pit of tension you are describing will hit him hard
and fast.

 
Come to a list of new agreements with him about daily behavior. No
more talking about you behind your back. If Mom has something to
say, then say it a daily family meeting. If she says something untrue,
tell her your side of things. Insist that the house rules of kindness and
politeness are baseline for living in your home. If she can’t be nice, tell
her she can explore outside situations, from group homes to assisted
living. Make sure she has seen a doc and that her meds are up to date
and taken regularly. Find a family support group at least for you and
your husband. Tell him if you can’t make it work without then you will
insist on marriage counseling. Find her activities with peers, whether
they are at senior centers or in the group homes that want new
members and offer day care. Also tell your husband that you have
“credit” for three weeks of solo care. Take time on your own on a
regular basis, and let him see the full brunt of what full-time care can
be. It’s not forever, but it can and will be hard for a while. But if your
husband knows you’re retreating in April and he’s staying home with
Mom, I promise he’ll solve it before then.

Only 24/7

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’ve written you already but this is a different side of the same coin.
My husband’s aging, senile, mother has landed with us. Ironically she
is not unwell, the occasional cold notwithstanding, though she is very
needy and dependent, and surprisingly chatty though from what I can
tell most of the running commentary has not much to do with what’s
really going on around her. It is taking a vast quantity of time to
adjust to having her in the household, in part because of her
clingyness.

My husband, recently retired, tries to run errands (without
her!) as much as possible, leaving me in charge. I am in a helping
profession and have a vast array of friends that I am used to seeing to
do everything from food preservation to fabric projects. I don’t want
my mother-in- law tagging along all the time, but many of my friends
are telling me—loudly and often—that they feel insulted that I am no
longer available to them. In fact, I’d rather be with them. What can I
do?

Only 24/7

 
Dear 24/7:

You can change things on several fronts. First is your attitude: this is not forever,
though it may be for a good handful of years or longer. You and your husband
need to communicate regularly about whether having his mother living with you
remains the right decision and fit for you both and for your marriage. If the
answer is yes, then you need to make, on a weekly basis, a schedule. You
should make it together on Sunday and confirm it every morning over breakfast.
It should identify on and off duty times where each of you is the primary
caretaker. Like any joint custody arrangement, you should both agree about
trade-offs. No one gets to hide behind I thought it would be okay if….

 
If having your mother in law move to an assisted living facility where she would
have more regular companionship and care is simply not an option, look into
part-time help and regular trips to the local community center for group activities
with other seniors. You should also find or create a support group with other
people in a similar situation. It will give you the insights you need and perhaps
you can have collective gatherings that might lead to the senior equivalent of play
dates among your respective aging relatives. As for your nagging friends, invite
them over to help cook and schmooze with your mother-in- law and to stay for a
game or cards. An afternoon or evening of your life should quiet down the
kvetching pretty fast. When you have off duty time, decide then if you want to sit
quietly with a book or get together with friends. They will need to adjust to
spontenity and less contact, at least for the foreseeable future.

Not A Hotel

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Each summer my daughter and granddaughter come to visit for two
weeks, with he husband joining them for the second one. It’s a lovely
time to see how my grandchild is maturing. While we connect weekly
on Skype, it’s not the same as playing a game together or teaching
her cooking. I enjoy the time with her, but my daughter treats the trip
more like a vacation than a visit. She flops around, rarely offers to
help, and takes long breaks to “go work” (she’s a freelancer),
assuming I will babysit at the drop of a hat, even though I have a full-
time job. I’m self-employed so I can arrange my schedule around their
visit, but not around her daily whims. Her husband is slightly more
responsible, but when I walk into the house after a busy day, I don’t
expect to see it over-run with toys and dirty dishes, while two adults
are watching a DVD. Should I say something now or wait till next
summer to lay down the law?

Not A Hotel

 

 

Dear Not A Hotel:

You should say something now and later. When people visit their
parents there is always a tendency to revert to the behaviors of their
childhood. That includes issues related to who gets the last vote, who
cleans and does chores, and how various generations treat one
another. When parents visit their adult children’s’ homes there are
different issues of tension, including indulgent grandparents wanting to
spoil children in ways that contravene the household rules.

 

 

Start with a light touch: That was a great visit. So wonderful to see
[grandchild] growing up so nicely. Next year I want to have more time
together as a group, and also clearer responsibilities identified so we
can have more fun and less work. Avoid details and stay upbeat. Next
year, when your daughter informs you about her timing and
reservations, get a little more parental: I’m delighted to see you but I
want to set down some house rules. Last year you acted like this was
a hotel. I’m happy to give you a ___-day vacation when you land, but
starting on the next day we’re going to share responsibilities for
cooking and cleanup. I’m happy to babysit when my work schedule
allows so you can go work. But I cannot do it at whim. Let’s all sort it
out like adults so we can concentrate on enjoying one another. It’ll be
uneven and she will probably test you to see if you mean what you
say. But everyone grows up eventually and this is just one more stage
of parenting.

Landing Zone

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I work at home. My office is a two-room and bath suite upstairs in a
three-bedroom, two-bath home that my husband I have empty nested
in for the past year. My younger sister has had a very rough patch,
and left her abusive husband with twin nine-year olds in tow. I told her
we could offer a refuge until she got back on her feet. But I have
clients coming in and out all day long, phone appointments, and a
schedule hones over twenty years that includes a nap from 2:30-4:00
each day, usually in my recliner on the sun-porch. Her kids are used to
eating an early supper. We don’t eat dinner till after 7:00 because of
our respective work schedules. My sister is a good person and these
are big changes for her. But they are also big changes for us. I don’t
mind feeding them, but don’t want to have to cook two different meals
several times a day. How can I cope without going crazy but still be a
good hostess?

Landing Zone

 
Dear Landing Zone:

You and your husband are good people. And compared to abuse, these
are very small problems to resolve. Re the physical set up, I would
move the recliner to your office (yes this may mean some shifting, but
it is temporary). Also reinforce the quiet times around times when you
have clients in the house. Re meals, cook dinner as you normally
would for your husband and self, though make enough for the guests
and possibly lunches. I see many casseroles ion your short-run future.
You sister and her children have the option of joining you when the
food is fresh or having the leftover the following evening for supper.
Breakfasts and lunches should be her issue to prepare, though it might
be nice to have a weekend bunch as a family.

 
One issue with “until she gets on her feet” could be a mismatched
perception of how long is long enough vs. too long. Give her time to
get past the shock of leaving an abusive husband, with plenty of kudos
and support. Then help her access community resources, from the
local Jewish Federation to support groups and shelters. Depending on
finances, you may want to help her get set up and relocated. But
safety is the first concern. Help her get a good divorce lawyer asap.
There are big important changes. Your life will go back to normal much
faster than hers.

The Good Kid

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My mother is dying. My sister is crazy and greedy. My brother can’t
hold onto a job with a belt. She doesn’t have more than two years and
if she doesn’t stop smoking and drinking probably more like one. She’s
not rich but does have some assets and a modest house. But she also
has special needs now, for in-home care and assistance, chauffeuring
to appointments, and housekeeping. Only I of the sibs provide any of
these services, and I am also the only one among them that has a job,
a spouse, and a child. Both of my sibs have approached my mother for
loans. They have come with sob stories about emergencies, about
needing help with broken cars, overdue rent, and—the boldest—for a
down payment on a “great deal of a house,” this last from a woman
who hasn’t held the same job for more than a year in her life or stayed
with a partner more than two. My mother feels sorry for them and tells
me that I have such a good life. I’m worried they will bleed her dry
and that after she goes they will keep coming to me with their fake
and outrageous demands. How can I interject some reason into this
process?

The Good Kid

 
Dear Good Kid:

You can get your mother to consult an estate attorney. Someone
competent and articulate who can explain both her current finances
and needs and the options she has for helping her children now and
after she goes. You should not be expected to either fill her shoes in
administering her estate or trying to solve the life issues of your
siblings. Nor should you be expected to sacrifice your share of the
estate to their needs.

 
If I ran your show I would have the attorney identify a budget for her
monthly needs, an emergency fund for each of you to draw from
before her death, with the used amount be charged against that sib’s
share of the estate after your mother dies. I’d recommend each
“emergency loan” come with a note and have at least a minimum
monthly repayment amount. That’s primarily to encourage the insight
that money isn’t free, and also to begin to convey the notion that it
isn’t infinite. The monthly for each of the sibs (not you) should be put
into a trust, administered by the attorney, that will provide a monthly
sum towards living expenses, with a fund for emergency expenses.
Decisions about those emergencies should be at the discretion of the
executor.

Oh So Burned

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My sister is a violent and angry person who has repeatedly told vicious
lies about me to all our relatives, from my parents to a dying aunt.
She is single parenting and I think is very jealous of my happy
marriage and healthy kids. I’m headed home for my mother’s 60 th
birthday bash and my sister sent word through our mother (who
seems to have taken her side) that she wants to get together one on
one. I have not forgiven her. I may, but I haven’t yet. What message
should I send back?

Oh So Burned

 
Dear Burned

It’s hard to combat vicious lies and people without feeling tarnished by
them. But you are not under any obligation to fall into your sister’s
drama. It’s much more important to take care of yourself. Plan to
attend the birthday festivities, but not to be one on one with your
sister.

 
Send a message back through your mother that says, I’m happy to be
cordial in public, but your party is not the time for us to address
serious family dysfunction. Let’s concentrate on appreciating you now,
and I will deal with [sister name] directly later. I’m looking forward to
seeing and celebrating you. Then politely resist attempts to do
anything else.

Worm Out

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My mother and I have always had a difficult relationship. It feels like
she&'s been the rock in the road of my life. She never believed me
when I told her about abuse issues in our family. She ran off every
boyfriend I ever had. She refused to help me pay for college. She cut
me off for a decade when I converted to Judaism. More, more, more….
She was just diagnosed with metastasized cancer and is refusing
treatment, putting herself on a hunger strike, and trying to die as
quickly as possible. My other siblings had an equally difficult
relationship with her. But now that she is dying they are bending over
backwards to hold her hand, wipe her brow, and act like she’s the
queen of the universe. I’m a 55-year old CPA in a new happy
relationship and drowning in tax returns. I understand that she&'s dying
but don’t want to be a hypocrite or give her more chances to ruin my
life. Do you have any advice for how to deal with an end-of- life
situation that I don&'t want to make worse but also cannot give her the
obedience and tears she seems to expect?

Worm Out

 
Dear Worn Out:

Assuming her body follows her will, time is short. I understand tax
season dominates most years, but you’ll have more of those later, and
your mother will only die once. Only you can know what will be okay
for your soul and heart. My usual question to folks with difficult
relationships facing a death is this: If she died today, would you be
okay? If not, you still have time to do something about it.

 
I recommend shooing away brow-wiping siblings for an afternoon. Say
you want some one-on- one time. Wait till she’s had food and a nap,
and then say something like: I know it hasn&'t always been easy
between us. But you’re my only mother. I’ve always respected that
you believed your opinions very strongly, even when I didn&'t agree
with them. I wish you could have felt the same about me but it was
clear that you didn&'t. But I recognize we won’t always have the luxury
of eye-to- eye contact, so I want you to know that I asked for this
alone time so we could be really honest with one another. My life has
turned out better than you thought it would. I am happy. But if there’s
anything you want to say to me about your life, my life, or our
relationship, I&'m listening.

 
Then really try to listen. Don’t be defensive or argumentative or feel
you need to justify your life. This is probably your mother’s last time to
tell you what she thinks you need to hear. You may be surprised if she
is milder or less judgmental than she was in life. But no matter what
she says find some way to respond to her that doesn&'t provoke an
argument. Find a way to communicate from your new happy and
confident self, so that you feel like you said what you needed to. End
with, I know in your way you tried to be a good mother. After all, she&'s
the one that&'s dying you. I don&'t think you should have to swallow your
truth but I am encouraging you not to upset her last few weeks with a
strident need to assert something that will have no impact on her
quality-of- life or your reality. It could come back to bite your
conscience or relationships with your sibs later. If you are really
happy, you will find a way to keep peace as she passes. You’ll feel
better if you do and worse if you don’t.