Category Archives: Sickness & Health

Shell Shocked

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I worked with an abusive boss for 26 years. I am finally free of
working directly with him, but we’re both employed by the same
company. People who do still work with him come to me to vent, and it
causes all the same responses it did when I suffered more directly.
Just thinking about him causes an anxiety spike. It’s a physical
reaction in my body: twisting in my gut, racing pulse, shallow
breathing. All the classic fight or flight responses. I’m not even
discussing my mood, which plummets. My wife encouraged me to
unplug from him, but I cannot afford to quit, and at 58 am unlikely to
find a job as good as this one. What’re some things I can do, other
than avoiding him and conversations that include his name? It’s a form
of PTSD I am eager to finish healing.

Shell Shocked

 
Dear Shell Shocked:

What you are describing is indeed a form of PTSD. Also classic
Pavlovian conditioning. You need to switch off your responses to the
stimulus. Avoiding direct contact with his person and conversations
about him and his abusiveness is a great start. But better is to
cultivate relaxation responses, because you’re still in an orbit that
includes many old cues.

 

Start by identifying a code word for yourself that is your new
command to set the process in motion. Make it something silly and
unrelated to work: tofu, bozo, or papaya. The minute you start to feel
yourself respond in old ways, say the word and start imaging yourself
getting up from a chair at a table where he is sitting, walking out of
the room, and closing the door behind you. If you still hear his voice in
your head, image turning down the volume dial on a radio until it
fades to silence. See yourself walking into the sunlight and going to
meet your wife at your favorite restaurant at a vacation resort. See
yourself sitting at a table with her, looking at an incredible view, with a
plate of tasty tidbits and flight of beer or wine. If thoughts of him
reappear, start over: say your cue; close the door; turn down the
sound; and have another slosh of anesthetic. Do this often enough and
he will fade into your past.

 

PS if you start to develop a drinking problem, change the imagery and get
a therapist.

Off Duty Please

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Can you help me design a “staycation?” My husband has had a raft of
medical problems. Sadly they include orthopedic problems, which
means that our normal hobbies of hiking and mushroom picking are
completely off the table. I’m a teacher and have a few weekends left
and then a long summer. I’m not expecting a two-week period at
home where I have no responsibilities, but I would like to design a
plan where I can get several days in a row to indulge my desire to
write. I have an idea for a children’s book, actually a series of them,
and a good friend who is an artist who can collaborate. My husband is
retired, not to mention grumpy from months of medical aggravation.
So he is lonely and looking for company. I don’t want to be unfriendly,
but I’m stressed by his condition also, and need my summer to
recharge.

Off Duty Please

 
Dear Off Duty:

You need to balance out the mix of responsibility with creativity.
Anyone who works at home will confirm that simply walking into the
kitchen to get a cup of coffee can trigger many hours of
procrastination and distraction, especially if one’s creative work isn’t
flowing. So you will need to set clear boundaries about when you do
what, and get an agreement from your husband to help you reinforce
them, and to keep out of your way in your creative time zones.

 

You don’t want him to think that your time together is all about work.
Getting him engaged in household maintenance before you get your
creative staycations is a deal he will have to agree to. Put a carrot in
the stick and make plans for a big date at the end of each one. For
example, Monday and Tuesday are together days doing home care.
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday until 3:00 is your creativity zone.
Then weekend is playtime together. Part of your prep is to have your
“creativity bag” ready to go: a tote with a dedicated set of materials
including laptop, clipboard, drawing paper, dictation device, whatever
you need all packed and ready to grab. Then on Wednesday morning,
head out to a coffee shop and set up for creativity. In the house, have
a special flag or sign that says, “The Writer is Out” which hubby should
agree to respect, house fires or broken legs notwithstanding.

Sick of Being Sick

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Long, ugly, medical story made short: I had ankle surgery that went
bad and I was on too many meds for too long. Even after I got off the
opioids I was on anti-inflammatories for a long time. Two weeks ago I
landed in the emergency room with an attack of diverticulitis.
Apparently the meds had inflamed my gut in bad, and hard to
remediate way. My birthday is in two weeks, fortunately one ending in
a 7 not a 0 or a 5. In my social circle most people like to take the
birthday gal out to lunch. But right now food is sweet potatoes,
steamed vegetables, rice, broth, and applesauce, with an occasional
treat of oatmeal. I’m not eating gluten, sugar, dairy, salads, pizza,
alcohol, or a host of other delicious things. While it’s making me
healthier it is also very boring and unequivocally not very festive. As
people are asking about taking me out to celebrate, I sound like an old
wet blanket. Do you have an idea about how to enjoy being the center
of attention without destroying my tender tummy?

Sick of Being Sick

 
Dear Sick:

I have two ideas and suggest you employ them both. Idea number
one: Tell folks what you can and cannot eat and a safe set of
restaurants you can go to. Explain that what’s much for fun for you
now is doing and experiencing rather than eating. Suggest that your
friends invite you to a movie or a show, with a light bite or cup of tea
before or after. Say the pleasure of their company should not be
overshadowed by the after-effects.

Idea number two is to spread out the joy. Explain that your system
is on overload, both from the medical events and the number of folks
who want to express their love. Ask if you can take a rain check until
your gut is healed, and set a specific date on the calendar that feels safely
far off. Good friends would understand either option, and you can give
them a choice. Sound appreciative for whatever they say yes to and focus
on getting healthy. By next birthday I hope you are eating everything that
you enjoy and that’s good for you.

Feeling Annoyed

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

For the past two years I have played ping pong for exercise. The club
has about 100 members and at the time I play, 9:00 am, many retired
folks, some of whom are completely out of my league excellent and
others welcoming and helpful. I was a newbie for a while, but got
pretty good, certainly mid tier. One of the very regulars is a man in his
80s, who had eye surgery that seems to have failed utterly. He used
to be mid-pack but now couldn’t hit the ball if it were the size of a
basketball. In addition he tells long stories and jokes to cover up his
frustration, which just slows down the game even more. I like him,
and I feel sorry for him, and I know this will happen to us all. But for
me this is exercise time, and I cannot give it all over to kindness, even
though I feel guilty saying that. Is there a gentle way to convey my
need to rotate with other players without offending someone who was
kind to me when I needed it?

Feeling Annoyed

 
Dear Annoyed:

There’s a certain amount of kindness and grace that’s required from us
all, in every situation. Here’s your chance to step up. When you play
with him, gently suggest that stories are great and interesting, but
they slow down your need to keep in motion, something your own
doctor has said is essential. Say you’re happy to hear them but could
he please keep playing while he talks. If he complies, hooray. If not,
try to rotate to a different table after a politely appropriate amount of
time.

 

Most clubs have some kind of manager or facilitator. Quietly take that
person aside and ask if s/he has noticed to decline in this person’s
play. Say that you like him and are happy to keep playing with him a
little while each time you come. But that given the large number of
players, there should be a rotating pool of people to help care for the
elders. Ask him if he would be willing to speak to the man directly,
suggesting that he schedule a follow-up with his eye surgeon. The
difficulties might be temporary, or they may presage something that
requires more medical attention. No matter what, stress your
willingness to be a good person. You’ll need the same grace someday,
as will we all.

Stressed

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have a husband with a long-term disability that is healing but not yet healed.
There are two issues. The first, which is medical, is that he has to NOT DO
certain things that might push his healing backwards. We have had several fights
about this during his convalescence. He thinks he is more fit than the doctors do,
and has many times too often done what I consider risky behaviors. That usually
involves trying to fix things around the house and yard, things he would have
been able to do in his sleep before his injury, but that are on the list of forbidden
activities (for example climbing on ladders).

 

The second issue is that he feels emasculated by my attempts to set up boundaries,
even though they are fully in line with the doctor’s instructions. He doesn’t get that
if he goes down again, everything falls to me. I am a working professional and already stretched thin, especially after six months of caretaking. This has impacted not just our intimacy but emotional trust. Can you help?

Stressed

 
Dear Stressed:

The practical side is far easier than the emotional side. Write up a checklist of
activities and submit it to the doctor (or more likely to his nurse). It can be really
simple: two columns headed by “allowed to do” and “not yet.” When you get the
list back, put it on the frig with a magnet and extract a promise that he will not do
anything more physical than daily life without consulting the list; if an activity is
something he is not yet ready for, the two of you will agree on a plan to get it
accomplished.

 
As for the emotional stress, you need a marriage/couples counselor. Most
marriages would benefit from this kind of tune up on a regular basis, but usually
folks wait until they’re in deep trouble to get help. If they wait too long, the bonds
are too fragile to sustain the pressure. In your case, if his illness is the primary
culprit, and is time-limited, you probably have a great chance to recover
communication and trust. But someone who is skilled at helping people on an
ongoing basis would be a real asset to the two of you. Ask discretely among your
friends and you will get names. People don’t tend to advertise when they have
seen a counselor, but your situation is one they will be able to relate to, and you
will find referrals.

Buddy

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

When is the right time to stage an intervention for a friend? It’s food,
not alcohol or drugs but her bad habit is going to kill her just the
same? She’s in her 60s and weighs well over 300 pounds. She has for
a long time, except for the year she lost almost 100 lbs by living on a
very strict anti-inflammatory regimen. She glowed from good health
and compliments, but then various issues in her family life resulted in
her taking in a very embittered relative who made her life a living hell
for more than a year, until she finally told her husband he had to
choose which of them was going to move out. The regained all the
weight and hasn’t looked back.

 

Now she is rapidly losing many forms of self-mobility and care as her aging
body copes with what’s simply too much for it to handle. The docs cannot figure
out a diagnosis or cure for her various ailments, and all of her friends are
concerned that she’s going to keel over, which would be a loss to us all. We
think bariatric surgery could be a great help, if her body could sustain it.
How can we say this to her without making her angry? She is fierce
when she feels cornered.

Buddy

 
Dear Buddy:

Once things involve doctors it is very difficult for what friends might
consider rational advice to hold sway. The person in question can
always say, My doctor says… as a defense. And while I cannot imagine
a doctor who would say 300+ pounds is a healthy weight, it sounds
like there are enough complications since the original weight loss that
the time for bariatric surgery may in fact have passed.

 
Rather than a formal intervention of several or many people, I’d
counsel one or two of you sitting down to have a heart-to- heart.
Explain how terribly concerned you are, and ask how you can be
supportive of her becoming healthier. You can offer to connect her
with nutritionists, health coaches, or even go on the same diet plan
that was once successful. Then listen very well, because she is the
woman who raises a fork to her lips, not you. And no intervention
short of incarceration will work if she is not as committed as you are.

Grieving

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

This is complicated. My father divorced, then remarried, so ended up
with two families, separated by a twenty-year gap between eldest and
youngest of his children. He died just shy of 100, and, though he was
an amazingly good-spirited person, had some quirks that defy
understanding. One of them was a will that left his assets to his
children, and then, in the event of demise, their children, not his
children’s spouses, and in a ratio of who had provided more
grandchildren. He also invested in real estate, which helped provide for
him and my mother, now deceased, very nicely in their aging years.

 

Among the four sibs/half-sibs, there are of course four points of view
about what to do. They are roughly: honor his wishes and leave
everything as is, dividing the monthly income from the real estate; sell
everything now quickly before the economy tanks; share the proceeds
only among the children, not the grandchildren; and variations on
these themes. The arguments split between the natural sibs, and a
discussion (that sadly began while we were sitting shiva!) led to such
discomfort that people fled to various rooms of the house. It was
painful and disturbing. Is there a solution that won’t enrich lawyers at
the expense of the family? To make it more complicated, we are
spread among Massachusetts, Montana, Florida, and California, and he
died in New York.

Grieving

 
Dear Grieving:

I cannot imagine a solution that does not involve lawyers and that also
changes a hair of what is written down. Frankly, I can’t imagine a
solution that simply enacts what’s written that doesn’t also involve
lawyers, if there are four siblings that don’t agree on simply doing
what your father wanted. I would start with his attorney, who may be
privy to information, and certainly is most well-versed in New York
law, which is operative in this reality.

 
I’m not only not a lawyer, I have a healthy respect for them. The
easiest path, by my common sense point of view, would be to
distribute all the assets fairly while all four sibs are alive. If there’s an
approach that gives the ones who want cash the money and the ones
who want to manage property, so be it. But if not, then everything
should be monetized (i.e. properties sold, stocks cashed out etc) and
distributed to the four surviving heirs. Then each can work with their
own attorney to determine if their paternal lineage should somehow be
treated differently than other marital assets. If you accomplish this
before any spouse dies (or is killed or maimed in the inheritance
struggle), you’re home free. But common sense and inheritance law
likely overlap in very few places, so my smart money says you are
probably stuck with your father’s will unless, and even if, all the sibs
can agree on how to move forward. May his memory be for a blessing,
and may each of you appreciate him for leaving you an inheritance
instead of debts.

Furious

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m married to a guy who’s ten years older, but he’s always been
extremely fit and active. He made a living as the head of facility
operations for a multi-site addiction recovery non-profit. Translation:
he was the internal handyman responsible for crawling into, under, or
on top of many buildings that were like apartment houses. He also
helped rehab our older home. He ended up with a bad back and bad
hips, both of which needed to be replaced, with back surgery pending
if the pain didn’t go away after the two hip surgeries. Surgery #1 went
fine and he recovered well, though was in increasing pain before
yesterday’s Surgery #2. An hour before the surgery, while they were
shaving and prepping him, the surgeon asked me in to consent to a
change in procedure: still a hip replacement, but a method that he’d
learned over the weekend at a conference, that is used by the other
top-flight ortho clinic in town. He admitted that my hubby would be his
first, but said that all the nurses were very skilled, as they assisted the
other docs regularly. Surgery #1 took one and a half hours. Three
hours into Surgery #2 I started asking questions. It wasn’t until hour
five! that I got any answers and they weren’t good. The surgeon had
broken my husband’s femur and had to send out for a different
replacement hip. Apparently this happens once in one hundred
surgeries. B U T…I think the odds are higher than that when it is the
surgeon’s first try. And I don’t think we were given nearly enough time
to make an informed decision. I feel angry and railroaded and now we
are facing much longer recuperation, lots more pain, and possibly a
much less robust recovery. What should I do or say, or not do and not
say?

Furious

 
Dear Furious:

I’m neither a doctor nor an attorney. And if you offered me 99 out of
100 odds I’d probably take them. But if you told me I was going to be
the first guinea pig for my surgeon to practice a new procedure I
would almost certainly refuse the honor. To me what’s key is the lack
of time for you to make an informed decision. When you buy a car or
refi a house you usually get three days to change your mind. A
decision that involves carving up body parts should certainly get more
than an hour’s notice.

 
What to do: Make it clear to the doc and the hospital that you are not
satisfied with the surgical outcome. Say that your immediate concern
is your husband’s health and comfort during recovery. But also stress
that you are nowhere close to done asking questions. First among
people to talk should be to the hospital administrator or director of
peer review. Ask what standard procedures are for informed consent
and also to review bad surgical outcomes. Insist the answers come in
writing. Take the answers to a malpractice attorney for a consult. Let
that conversation guide your next steps.

In Recovery

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m the single woman in her sixties who wrote you about preparing for
knee replacement surgery. I live alone, assuming you don’t count my
cat, who has been reluctant to do a lot of the heavy lifting during my
recuperation. My wide circle of loving friends has stepped up to help
me walk the slow road to recovery. I know every case is its own
unique world, but your advice was helpful to me, so I wanted to give
some tips to other readers, based on my experience.

 
Things that make recovery easier: Buy or borrow a good electrically
powered recliner. (Emphasis on electric to save stress on your back,
and twisting or leaning over hard to operate it.) In addition to a place
to sit, the recliner will become your haven especially in the wee hours
when you cannot sleep comfortably on your back in bed. Sleep
opportunistically every chance you get. Don’t be afraid to unplug the
phone and take naps, from catnaps to deep, long ones. If insurance
and/or Medicare will not cover it, invest in one of the continuous flow,
cold water pumps that when filled with ice and water will bathe your
aching knee in a velcroed wrap of soothing comfort. Ask your friends
to text or email rather than phone. Post or email group updates of
your condition. Be realistic and optimistic, but don’t candy coat the
tough stuff. Allow your friends to set up a food supply. Your appetite
will be diminished and your taste buds may be altered. A few servings
of homemade soup every other day, and simple foods like applesauce
and muffins will feel like gourmet fare. Stockpile chicken broth in your
freezer. Encourage visitors to bring a book and sit with you or in
another room, rather than draining your energy with chatter. Wear PJs
or a nightie when you are home to remind yourself you are a patient.
Know that everything will take twice as long as you expect it to, and
will tire you out more than you think it should. Set up all your physical
therapy appointments well before surgery and have a friend coordinate
transport for you. Don’t be shy about acknowledging your limitations.
Say Please and Thank you often, with true sincerity. This is a humbling
and humanizing experience. Be kind to everyone who helps you, and
do the same for others when you recover. We’re all going to need
more of this kind of community support.

In Recovery

 
Dear In Recovery:

Thank you for the helpful specifics! I hope you are out walking soon
and dancing not long after that.

Hobbled

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I am about to have my third rotator cuff surgery. The surgeon botched
the first try, a matter of a vivid dispute between my insurance
company and his malpractice lawyers. But I’m the one who had to
endure a second operation. It helped, but not enough, so now I am
undergoing a second corrective procedure. My problem is that some of
my friends, though they try to sound well-meaning about it, are
undercutting my mood, my self-confidence, and my general sense of
independence by making all sorts of remarks, like: “I hope you try
harder with the physical therapy this time.” “Gee this is taking so
much longer than my friend so-and- so.” “Are you sure you are really
pushing your limits with pain?” It makes me feel ashamed, vulnerable,
like I cannot ask them for help, like I want to just stay home and hide,
and generally emotionally and physically fragile. Needless to say the
docs are cautious around me, because the word gets around that you
are “the kind of patient who will get you sued!” How can I let people
know that I too long for the days when I can drive myself to the
market, get back into the yoga studio, and walk my own dog. At age
55 it is a scary foreshadowing of what old age could be. And there is
nothing about it that I like!

Hobbled

 
Dear Hobbled:

As the old saying goes, No way out but through. So you need to push
on, yes through the pain, but also through the emotional difficulties of
not being understood by either doctors or friends. Statistics will tell
docs what’s likely to happen. They’re based on the aggregate of
human experience. But you have only your own rotator cuff to work
with, and if it&'s not cooperating with the surgeon’s expectations, he’ll
have to adjust and cooperate with yours. That does for your friends as
well.

 
Shaming is a lousy teaching technique, for age 5, or 55, or 95. We all
deserve to be recognized for our efforts. And especially in times of
great stress and pressure, we should be supported not chastised. I’d
consider sending a group email to your friends (or writing it once and
sending it individually to people). In it you can explain how grueling
and stressful this whole process has been for you, how terrifying it is
to imagine not having full use of an arm for the rest of your life, and
how extensive, expensive, and exhausting it is to be coping with a
medical issue you had been hoping would be long resolved. Without
naming names, you can say that people who have tried to “encourage”
you with negative feedback have had the opposite impact, and that
what you most need is support and encouragement. Let folks know
that you are appreciative both for their physical help and their moral
support. And tell them that on the other side they’ll all be invited to a
fabulous party to celebrate healing and recovery. But in the meantime,
if they can’t get onboard with what you need, they should feel free to
demur when you ask for help. You’ll soon learn who your true friends
are.

 
PS You should consider doing counseling to deal with medical trauma.
Just having a place to scream and weep without judgment may be
exactly the safety zone you need.

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.

Concerned

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m trying to figure out how to help a friend who is in chronic pain. She
did a rehabilitative surgery and hasn’t bounced back like we all
thought she would. Previously she was outgoing, funny, always ready
to make plans, and generally seemed far younger than her age. Now
she shuffles along like a woman twenty years older, seems timid and
afraid of her own shadow, and has become, if not a shut-in, at least
very different from the lively and charming person I’ve known for
decades. I’ve watched her bounce between physical therapy,
acupuncture, hypnosis, new age therapies I can’t pronounce and don’t
believe in, and far too many pain meds. It’s not just missing my
friend. I’m worried about her life moving forward. How can I help her
realize that she’s spiraling down fast and hard?

Concerned

 
Dear Concerned:

I doubt your description would tell her anything that she doesn’t
already know and is probably far more concerned about that you could
possibly imagine. The phrase “old before her time” is terrifying if one is
the “her” in question. Anyone who’s survived a major surgery knows
how fragile and vulnerable they feel afterward, and in reality are. The
true definition of health should include not merely recovery from the
original malady but should acknowledge that until one lives without
second-guessing every action, and without fearing any and all possible
negative consequences, one is not truly free of the dis-ease process.

 

Things you can do for her: Be patient and kind. Be positive not
negative or impatient. Ask her what she needs to be comfortable and
to feel safe. Listen to her answers and take them seriously; do not
discount them because you want her to be more well than she is. Help
her not isolate. Invite her for short excursions, whether it’s offering a
trip to Costco to stock up on paper goods, or to go out for a cuppa tea
or a movie. Ask her if she wants to talk about her healing and
vulnerability, either with you or a professional counselor. Encourage
getting off pain meds that can become a source of addiction. They can
be soul-numbing and personality-altering. Stay patient and kind and
keep reassuring her that time will improve almost everything, and that
she’s close to rounding the corner on the worst of it.

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.

Quicksand

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’ve had a pretty tough year. I had health challenges that left me
debilitated, lost a beloved parent and a beloved dog, and had the
company where I’ve worked for twenty years skate perilously close to
the edge of bankruptcy. I’m feeling fragile and shaken and not very
secure in any sector of my life How can I use what’s left of the High
Holidays to set a firmer footing to go forward?

Quicksand

 
Dear Quicksand:

Much of the discussion about Yom Kippur is about interpersonal
relations: asking for and offering forgiveness for slights real and
imagined. It’s a chance to clear the air and enter the New Year with an
emotional sense of solidity. It won’t cure your work or health
problems, but it should make you feel as though your friendships are
intact. So do that and know you have friends.

 
Another way to think about atonement is internal. Think back a year
and see what gives you a pang, a sense of regret, even a caught
breath, a feeling that if you had a chance you would take what golfers
call a “mulligan” and kids call a “do-over.” Yom Kippur is a chance to
forgive yourself and move on. You might wish you’d done things
differently. Next year you should take every chance to do exactly that
in similar situations. But for now, clear your soul.

 
Go back and clean up whatever messes accrued in your wake. That
may mean conversations with bosses or co-workers, children or
partner. Then change how you talk to yourself about whatever
happened. And also how you talk to other people, from your doctor to
your next beloved pet. Nothing lasts forever, even grief and sadness.
A lot has to do with your attitude. Resolve to write a new, better, and
different story for the next year.

Gimpy

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m having knee replacement surgery next month and I’m trying to get
all my ducks in a row. I am single, though in a new dating situation.
My new honey has offered to do a lot of helping, including bathing and
dressing in the first week, the time everyone assures me that I need
to prepare for help in the home 24/7. Some of my friends (and I note
these are the same ones who are least available to help schlepp me to
PT) are suggesting I go into a rehab place for the first week, BUT I
DON’T WANT TO!!! What should I do? Oh yeah, I’m also told I won’t be
able to drive for four-six weeks but I do have friends and neighbors.

Gimpy

 
Dear Gimpy:

First of all, talk to your doc. See what the general prognosis is for
people in your demographic regarding how long it takes to heal and
hoe long you should expect to need 24/7 care. Simply not wanting to
go to rehab is not quite enough of a reason. If it is medically
necessary, bite your tongue and go.

 
If it is an option, see what the alternative looks like. Set up a
spreadsheet for the maximum duration of your dependency. Set up
the grid day by day, and with sectors for morning, afternoon, and
evening, with specific slots for shlepping to and from physical therapy.
Talk to your new honey realistically. Not much kills romance faster
than changing dressings on wounds and hours of kvetching and pain.
Then start filling in the grid. Ask your self the tough questions, like
Who’s going to sleep here every night? With me or where? Who’s
going to do the cooking, cleaning, housework, and shopping? Who
among my friends is retired and available during day times to drive me
to appointments? How often can I bother them? Ask also at your local
Jewish Federation or the synagogue to see if there are care
committees or volunteers. You may have to pay someone to be with
you, or perhaps to have a neighbor on call after the first week or two.

 

 

So if money isn’t an issue and you can rent help, think about whose
life is amenable to interruption that you would trust.
This is one of those times when a non-working spouse would be grand.
But in the absence of one, see how close you can get before you make
any firm decisions. If everyone does pitch in, throw a thank you party
for them later, when you are up and about. And then help repay the
favor when you are asked to help others.