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Survival Tips

Survival Tips for the World of Work

Click on the topics below for Your Jewish Fairy Godmother’s advice on
situations we all face in our careers:

Resume Writing
Job Hunting
Long-distance Job Hunting
Your First Day At Work
Being A Good Gatekeeper
A Tough ^%^@ Boss
Email Etiquette
Public Speaking
Team Building
Demystifying Statistics
Goal Setting
Changing Jobs
Career Building
An Annual Mental Health Check
25 Summary Tips

10 Commandments for Covid Times

Surviving Quarantine

Dear Readers:

Reality has settled in with us all. We are locked in without any idea how we will get out, except perhaps by ambulance. We are glued to the news or our phones. We are afraid, bored, worried about what we might run out of, either lonely or frustrated with our live-ins, and unsure how to act in these terrifying and unfamiliar circumstances. We see no end in sight, and are deeply saddened by the idea of a world where gatherings and human touch are a long time from now. We are reading too much scary information online, and spend so much of our days trying to stay germ free. Our hands are raw from washing and we are starting to get more than a little testy. We jump at every little cough and life seems ruled by fear and uncertainty. There is no old normal and the new normal is either terrifying or as yet unknown.

Below are Your JFG’s Ten Commandments for Covid Times:


Commandment 1: Stay home and flatten the curve!!! If you do not have anyone healthier than you who can bring you what you need, put on a facemask and gloves, go out quickly and maintain social distancing. Enough said.


Commandment 2: Trust your doctor. If you start to have symptoms, even mild ones, keep a log of them that you could send your doc efficiently. Take your temperature. Stay in your room and self-isolate if you live with others. If your symptoms do not resolve, contact your doctor about what to do next. Also, be sure your RXs are all filled.


Commandment 3: Be kinder. We are all tense. Sharing one wrong meme that you think is funny and your contacts do not can be a source of friction that will last longer than it should or might in normal times. The gallows humor we are sharing is often funny. The reasons it is here are not. Be softer and gentler every time you interact.


Commandment 4: Prepare, within reason. Like the TP hoarders, we each have some primal impulse to be sure we have enough. This may last many months, but you cannot keep enough of everything you might need in your house. Help ensure everyone will have something.


Commandment 5: Help others. We need the old, the poor, even those with whom we have been feuding politically. Whether you are able to donate food or money or can give your unused sewing machine to a neighbor willing to make masks, look for ways to share. Even putting a sign in your window saying something positive might help another person’s day. Google Margaret Mead’s definition of what defines civilization. Sobering and true.


Commandment 6: Breathe deeply regularly. There is tons of science to support meditation as a regular part of life. But even if you never have, Google stress reduction breathing. You will find all sorts of (conflicting) insights into inhale/exhale patterns like 4/4, 6/2/4, etc. Pick one and do it at least a few times each day or whenever your panic button self-ignites.


Commandment 7: Go on a news diet. What you weigh matters less these days than what you feed your head. Limit yourself to once or twice max a day of news, and read the stories about kindness as often as the scary ones. For medical, health, and safety information, trust only legit sources such as the: CDC, WHO, the Johns Hopkins Data Dashboard, or the state Health Department.


Commandment 8: Embrace beauty. Nature is breaking spring open all around us. Staring at any small piece of it is good for the soul. Search for free museum tours and nature videos. Join any online group that posts pictures of kittens and puppies. Look for beauty, laughter, and non-covid-focused inputs.


Commandment 9: Open your heart. It is terrifying to actually take in all the death and dying on the planet. Like the wildfires last year, the scale is simply beyond us. But it matters that we all feel it at least a little each day, so we can remember that we will need to be different when it is over. Say I love you to everyone you care about. Today and every time you speak to them.


Commandment 10: Believe you will live. Thoughts help make reality. Optimism may seem like a stretch, but wrap yourself in it at waking and bedtime. The rest of us need you around for long time. Say your prayers and make them come true by your actions.


Cooped Up


Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

We are a family of five. Husband, wife, one teen, one pre-teen, and one second-grader. In normal times we are a comfortable middle-class family. We have a nice home and yard. We can telecommute. The older kids know enough about technology to keep us safe and connected to family members far away. We have regular check-ins with them and family meetings at home. Everyone has their own biorhythm, but we have evolved rules of consideration about shower time, music-playing, group activities, keep-quiet zones and times. The kids are engaged with meal planning and prep, and each is in charge of family game night once a week. But we are exactly the messy humans we write about in your book: we get cranky, bored, restless, impatient, annoying, patronizing, and every other trait that would normally drive us out the door. But as good conscientious citizens we are staying home to flatten the curve, and sewing masks for the brave medical and essential workers who are keeping our world afloat. Given that the news suggests we are going to be locking in together for much longer than anyone would want, can you suggest a way to improve communication in our little microcosm?

Cooped Up Mama


Dear Cooped:

If you are like most families, you did a Zoom Seder, likely with variations on the plagues and Four Questions to account for these extraordinary times. Most folks I knew added The Ten Gratitudes to their Seders. If you did not perhaps now is a great time to do so.

One game I know is this. It works great with a whiteboard and or even just putting three sheets of paper on the frig with magnets. Let every family member pick a color and use markers, crayons, or colored pencils. (If you want, stick them in a jar and everyone can pick a new color every day to preserve anononymity.) You, as Mama, are queen of the game, like the host at a bridge table. Label the sheets each morning: Gratitudes, Issues, Solutions. Put 1-10 on each page. Each family member may write up to two things per page. They can self-select the ranking. For example, It makes me CRAZY when so-and-so does such-and-such. But if that complaint is given a 7, it ranks lower than So-and-so spent 20 minutes in the shower and drained the hot water tank.

Another great game is Truth or Dare, also called Two Truths and a Lie. Each person tells three things about him/her-self, only two of which are true. If a person guesses right, they win a special treat, which might be picking the meal t be cooked or ordered in (or something such). Wrong, they get a chore no one wants like cleaning the backroom, or otherwise related to staying in.

If you are looking for group activities, go on the internet, or perhaps better YouTube, and look at what families are doing, from sing-alongs to Rube Goldberg marble chasings. Honestly the idea of trying to master a new language or start a big project sounds beyond most of us in these times, but more power to you if you are inspired. For most of us, getting through the day, from distance-learning schoolwork, connecting with friends by phone or facetime, or watching some TV/movie is enough.

I like starting each day with a list, so I have a sense of having accomplished something. The classic joke is, The first item on your list should be “Make list,” so you have something to cross off. Sadly some days that’s all you may be able to do. We all have low moods and bad mental health days. With your family you may be more acutely aware of symptoms of sadness or grief about how our lives have irrevocably changed or the death of people in your close or distant network. Encourage talking and sharing, crying and feeling all the feelings. The more you can let it out the better for you all.

If you have a mask, go for a safe, socially distancing walk just to get out of the house if you feel it is safe. Or do a little yoga in your yard. Thank God it is spring, and not November. Watch nature come back to life and believe this too will end, and that we very resilient beings will find a way to make a better world after. That may feel like a stretch in bad moods, but believing it will help us all.

Surviving Quarantine!

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Even without knowing your daily life, I know you’re in the same boat as everyone else: locked in with the people they love (and occasionally get furious with) or alone and isolated, with access to the outer world only with phone, text, email, or Skype. I am locked in with a toddler and two teenagers. My sister, who lives close, lives alone. And our parents who are elderly and potentially at high risk live a few miles away. How can we all cope during this crazy time? We’ve already stocked up on basic essentials but there’s a limit to how much money we have to spend and food we can store. Who should check in on my parents? How do I keep the kids from going crazy? What happens if this is really last more than a few weeks? I can work remotely for a while but not forever. And my sister is at the edge of losing a job because her company will go out of business if this goes on for more than a few weeks. My parents are fine now, but each of them has underlying conditions. We don’t want to put them more at risk by visiting, but we worry.

In the Life Boat


Dear Life Boat:

Sadly I can’t solve a global pandemic. But I can give you some handy tips. Let’s focus on your parents first since they are the high risk factor. Check in with they daily by phone to keep their spirits up. That can rotate between you and your children. Skype is even better, and allows you a visual as well as verbal check in. Have them take their temperatures regularly. Do whatever immune boosting they can do, from plain old vitamin C to whatever herbal concoctions they can find or believe in. Make sure they drink lots of water, eat chicken soup, and fo everything they would do if they already had a cold. And if there’s ever a sign of a real fever or flu get a virtual doctor to tell them what to do next.

As from amusing yourself and your children, the Internet is proliferating with virtual tours of everything from museums to nature. There’s binge watching of course. Lots of great lists are proliferating. Learn new games. You and your kids can figure out how to do something you’ve never done before like art or music. Meditate together. Books are fabulous, as an individual or read-aloud activity. Let them have as much Facebook or Skype contact with friends as they want but being absolutely, 100%, zero exceptions cruel and relentless about no, none, No I said No, in person contact with others for at least two weeks. And then limit listening to whatever the guidelines are after that. Flattening the curve is a start, but this is going to last. I was distressed to realize all the early Passover displays around here translated to, This could be a while.

Your sister should be looking for a gig economy remote work now. This is going to change our entire social and economic structure. And it’s going to take a very long time to recover. So whatever she can do long distance now will likely be something that can contribute to her income later. People who alive alone face different challenges than people who are cooped up together. But if she has online interest groups, now’s the time to visit them regularly. When she’s done looking for work, she can do something like learning bridge which you can do online 24/7. By the way, when people have seemingly infinite time, we tend to be much less productive, so be sure to talk to her daily too and ask what she has been up to. A little accountability helps us all.

Beyond handwashing and prayer, I think of the three Ws as salvation: water, wifi, walking. As long as you can keep yourself hydrated, amused, and exercised, you can make it through this process. That’s assuming you have shelter and medical insurance, but those I cannot solve either. When evening comes, indulged in the new fad drink: the Quarantini. It must include vitamin C crystals. Beyond that, feel free to experiment with whatever keeps your spirits up.

We’re all in this together even though we’re all experiencing it separately. So do your best to keep your neighbors healthy and hope they’ll do the same for you. This is a time when we find out what we’re made of. With luck we will all make it through. Stay safe.

A Nosh of Jewish Wisdom: Kind words are like honey: sweet to the soul and health for the bones.

Shell Shocked

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My heart is breaking for America. I cannot get over the shooting in the Pittsburgh synagogue. It happened he morning of my best friend’s son’s Bar Mitzvah. What should have been a day of celebration was a time of grieving and sadness. We were sitting there together as a family and community shell-shocked that such a thing could happen in America. I know there are people in my congregation who voted differently than I did. Even they seemed shaken that as Jews, sitting in place of worship, they might be killed, just for being Jews, sitting in a place of worship. My city is about half Jewish, and we have elected both red and blue candidates. But I am the granddaughter of European immigrants who escaped fascism, and what I see in America now is eerily reminiscent of the stories I heard from Opa and Nana about their time, tinged with all their sadness about their family, neighbors, and friends who died. What will it take to make us feel safe again?

Shell Shocked

Dear Shell Shocked:

Safety is a huge question. Zero guns are part of an answer, though not very likely. And people who hate will find other means to kill. The only answer I have is to vote and to communicate calmly, and to encourage others to do the same. But that feels like a giant chasm from where we are now as a country. Part of what I had to do when writing my book was to deconstruct my legacy as the child of immigrants: to see how it shaped my worldview and emotional structure. Both my parents made it out of Germany very close to the beginning of WW2. They grew up in an increasingly fascistic country with a charismatic leader who actively espoused hatred of minorities, Jews at the very top of the list. If we do not want to go the way of 1930’s Germany, Americans must return to talking peacefully even when we disagree, calling out hatred and violence whenever we see them, smothering them with our large presence and caring hearts, and defending this great multicultural experiment we call America.

Except for Native Americans, all of our ancestors came from somewhere else and were reviled as that nationality just as Jews, Muslims, Hispanics, and more are currently being attacked. We have to speak out. Every day. Against everything that brings hatred into our society. We need to fight to keep America free. Not just with and from bullets, but with our votes and with our prayers and our acts of kindness to create a strong loving multicultural society. No one has to vote the same way as I do. But please vote, and make your opinions clear, peacefully, at the ballot box. And wherever and whenever you see it, confront violence, hatred, anti-Semitism, attacks on journalists, and other forms of incipient fascism as though your freedom and life depended on it. Because they do, as Jews, Americans, and humans. It is fine to cry when you do so. You will not be alone.

Great Customer

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I am an Amazon fantasy customer. I’m retired, partially disabled so it
is difficult enough to get friends to help with medical appointments
that I don’t want to also bother them for shopping, and well-off
enough that if there is something that I want—from an art book to an
appliance—that I can go online, browse, and have it delivered to my
door. I’m not proud of being a consumer but I also do my share of
tzedakah and recycling. I save on deliveries by being a member; they
get my business. The last four orders I have received have been
defective or wrong in some way. The first two were my fault: pressing
“buy now” too quickly and not reading the size details, and because
they were “no return” items I was allowed to keep them. The next two
were not as advertised and when I called to complain I got shunted to
a higher-level supervisor who questioned me I thought a little rudely. I
fell like I have been tagged in some way. How can I get my good
consumer name back and have the convenience I want and the
respect I deserve?

Great Customer

Dear Great Customer:

Generally speaking, the old adage “the customer is always right” still
remains a baseline for retailers. But in the age of long-distance buying,
consumers have both much more and much less information about
what they are purchasing. When we could stand in a store holding and
feeling the product and talk to a salesperson we could make bettetr
decision, though perhaps not as cheaply. In this age of knock-offs and
declining quality, it is easy to be disappointed with a purchase. As long
as a site’s shipping and return policies are reasonable, I think it’s
worth being loyal, but not to the point of paying too much or feeling
that you did not get the quality you paid for.

I would call and ask to talk to a customer service rep. Explain what’s
happened independent of a specific purchase. Ask if there is a way you
can learn more about products before you purchase, beyond the review
and questions section. Ask if they in some way tag you for too
many returns. Assuming you are treated like an adult, and not charged
to ship back defective items, I’d stick with a retailer you have trusted.
Remember, every time you buy from a new place, all you credit info
ends up being spread about the Internet. And each breach of security
is one more hassle to remedy and takes you one more step into the pit
of identity theft.

Still In His Prime

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’ve worked for 35 years and could afford to retire tomorrow if money
were all that mattered. But I just cut a fabulous deal to go to .25 time
at my firm as a Senior Advisor starting in January, make big bucks per
hour, and even be eligible for a bonus. I am simply not ready to give
up such a windfall, at least without trying it for six months. But my
wife says I am too stressed out and I should quit. I say look at the
vacations we could take with the money. You get a vote, though I
know the details are sketchy. What say you?

Still In His Prime

Dear Still In His Prime:

Money is hard to turn down; in our society it is a necessary addiction.
Big money almost always comes with stress. Ironically, we can get
addicted to stress as well. My vote is to map out a typical week with
your wife. If you can limit work to fixed hours that will not corrupt
your ability to make a new life (for example, three to four hours a day
on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday) and truly restrict it to those
hours, .25 might be feasible, like a hobby that pays you while you
develop new, lower-stress things to do with your time. But my bet is
that it expands into five days a week pretty fast unless you are
vigilant. I would commit to a three-month probationary period, and
then review how it’s going with both with your wife and your

But don’t delay creating your second life too long. You my find that
retirement is much more fun than you think or fear.


Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

All summer, when I was in a recess from teaching middle school, I had
plenty of time to be creative. For me that meant starting to learn how
to paint with watercolors and outlining my idea for a young adult
series. But now that school is back in session, I can’t seem to find time
to write or paint or even just lounge with a book to read for more than
20 minutes at a time. It’s not just grading and lesson planning, but the
complicated schedules my husband and I share, which has made us
put an emphasis on dining together on weeknights and cleaning
together on weekends. I take a yoga class two nights a week but
that’s not the same thing as feeling creative. I miss my freedom. Can
you help?


Dear Yearning:

It is important to set reasonable expectations. You won’t have the
same unlimited time as you did in summer. But you can carve out two
or three times during the week that are “yours” beyond yoga,
housework, and work-work. Let’s assume Friday and Saturday are
date nights with your hubby, and Sunday night is school prep. If you
can spring Sunday from work you will get three sessions to yourself
beyond yoga.

First, set up a room or at least a desk and a chair that is your
designated creative space. Allow yourself to leave your projects there
in whatever state of organization (or even disorganization) that you
like. If you have a door to close all the better. Second, ask your hubby
if he will be responsible for meal prep one night a week, say
Wednesday. When you get home that day, go to your play space and
breathe for ten minutes. Let your ideas for what you want to do later
float around in your brain so they sound exciting. Write down what
seems important. Have dinner with your hubby and kiss him goodbye;
then go to your creative space and let yourself have two-three hours
to do whatever you please, even if it turns out to be reading a book or
napping. Ditto for Sunday afternoons. The first few times you do this,
the freedom to be creative may surprisingly sap your energy rather
than enhance it. But you will find your sea legs and once you start to
write, and your characters feel more alive, you will be drawn to it,
even called.

November is a month dedicated to writing. Google NANOWRIMO
(national novel writing month) If you can find even ten minutes a day
to jot down ideas, one paragraph or one scene, or even just an idea, in
a notebook you carry with you or an email you send yourself, you will
become inspired. By next November you may even have made a big
head start on your book. In the interim you will start to develop better

Suffering Supervisor

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I work with someone with whom there is mutual and active dislike. I
am her only supervisor and report to a boss of my own who thinks she
only needs better direction and instruction. He is unwilling to mentor
me in how to provide it or take his own time to give it. Sadie is a
single mom (something she tells us regularly) who tries to ingratiate
herself with everyone (except me). Ironically this has backfired and
she’s managed to annoy most of the staff with her prima donna
attitudes. I’m responsible for training her and getting productive work
out of her. I have tried being her friend, being stern, and being
professional, but nothing seems to dent her pseudo-sunny personality
and haphazard performance. She’s been here a very long three
months. How much more time do we owe her to see if she will work

Suffering Supervisor

Dear Suffering:

It’s always hard to be caught between bad help and a hard boss.
Assuming you want to keep your own job, you’ll have to tread carefully
and document your footsteps. Most of all, don’t take it in emotionally
so much that you lose your own self-esteem or act in ways that might
reflect badly on you. Give all your instructions in writing, finding a
balance between micro-management and careful explanations. Cc your
supervisor if the task is particularly important to his deadlines, so it’s
clear that you see the big picture and gave your staff enough lead time
to meet the needs of the project.

As for how long you’ll suffer before a change, immediately do a three-
month evaluation. Be explicit about both her flaws and performance
expectations for the next month. Repeat this exercise every four
weeks until she improves and you change your mind, she leaves on
her own, or your boss sees enough to fire her. Protect your own
reputation as a supervisor by acting like a friendly mentor (even if
you’re gritting your teeth inside). Be seen as putting the organization’s
needs first, at least in public rhetoric. Be sure not to take your
frustrations out on your family. Keep a calendar countdown to six
months, the outer limit of deciding. You’re already halfway there.


Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I spent three years in a bad relationship in which my now-ex cheated
and lied so often that even when we were making up I think both of us
felt like actors in a bad play. I finally realized I am worth more. After a
year of counseling and not dating, I decided I was ready The first guy I
met, whom I told I did not want to date exclusively, texts me several
times a day, and generally acts adoring but never takes me out on a
real date, just invites me to his place “for a movie” which translates to
making out. The second guy I met is his opposite, very shy and almost
too afraid to make a move. He’s nerdy and sweet but we don’t seem to
have enough in common. Despite this, he invited me home to meet his
mother, which felt much too fast. I’m feeling very:


Dear Uninspired:

If you have two guys pursuing you my bet is that others will too. It’s
hard to turn down birds in the hand, but the bushes are full of men
who aren’t right for you, and you’ve failed to convince me that either
of these guys is even close to being “the one.” That said, number two
at least seems to treat you like a person of value. The first guy sounds
like a jerk, and I think you should clear his slot for the as yet unknown
number three.

Sit yourself down and inventory what you want in a good date and a
good mate. They may not be the same things, but be honest with
yourself and get clear on what the differences are. Then make a list of
non-negotiables, things you won’t put up with, no matter what. I’d like
to assume that means no abuse (physical or verbal), rejecting
someone who expects you to pick up the tab all the time, and avoiding
other horrors you’ve already suffered through. No matter what, don’t
compromise on those. Look for someone who has your list of wants,
and know that you might need to test out numbers three through
three hundred before finding who you truly love and deserve.

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


Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

For years we have been friends with former neighbors who moved to
Hawaii. We mourned when they relocated. We have been there twice
in ten years. They have come to visit twice most years and three times
more than once, and early on we were happy to have them. While I
understand Hawaii is considered more desirable than our small town,
having guests is not merely a break in routine but burdensome and


This time they gave us very little warning before they
arrived, never asked if the dates were convenient, and when we told
them we needed them to leave by Sunday morning latest, laughed and
said, “Oh we planned on Tuesday.” I didn’t want to be rude, but I was
under a massive work deadline. I just said, “I’m on deadline so you’re
on your own for meals,” and stayed in my office. After returning home
the wife sent me an email that said in essence, “This is not turning out
to be the exchange we expected. Please look for alternative
accommodations on your next vacation.” How do I reply?


Dear Flabbergasted:

Economists have this notion of “sunk costs” which leads to the idea
that it’s not worth throwing good money after bad. What’s past cannot
be changed, but it can provide you with lessons for the future when
dealing with other guests. Common courtesy suggests asking the
hostess if dates are convenient, agreeing on length of stay, amenities,
expectations about food and access to vehicles, and any household
peculiarities such as rising/bedtime quiet, etc. A gift of food, wine, or
something for the house, taking the hosts out to a meal, or another
thank you is common. Any potential guests who doesn’t meet that
standard gets a polite, I don’t think those dates will work for us.


In this case, it seems clear that the friendship is both one-sided and
not particularly close anymore. I would reply simply, Our views on
what this exchange has been are very different. I warned you I was
under deadline and was more accommodating than I should have
been. Your note suggests a sense of entitlement that makes it easy to
agree that this exchange is over, and overdue for that. She will take
umbrage no matter what you say, so sit on your email for 24 hours
before sending; if you feel better than worse after rereading, hit send,
or edit accordingly.

Patient (Not!)

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Breast cancer has killed half the female members of my family. They
all fought hard but succumbed. I cannot tell you the relief I felt when I
gave birth to sons! Now I have been diagnosed, and learning from
their example I have decided to make fighting it the single most
important thing that I organize my life around. I am a divorce attorney
and high enough in the organization that I could negotiate leave for
the full period in which I will be doing chemo and related treatments. I
know the toll it takes not just in the immediate period but also in the
recovery time, so I wanted to have absolutely no distractions while I
shifted everything in my life around this battle. I expect to return to
work, but not until I feel whole again, and probably after a vacation.
The problem: Everywhere I go, from synagogue to the supermarket, I
bump into people who want to discuss both my medical condition and
“just one quick question….” Which never is. I cannot believe the
rudeness of the latter and frankly consider anything except “Good
luck” to be more than I can bear. What can I say to deter unwanted

Patient (Not!)

Dear Patient (Not!):

I’ll presume that you are not shy or you wouldn’t do what you do for a
living. Two simple things you can say when people start to speak
beyond Good luck. The minute they start to wind up and launch into
anything legal, hold up your hand like a traffic cop. That should stop
most but sadly not all folks. Then say, I am on a total sabbatical from
the law so I can focus on getting healthy. If you want to talk about
anything related to it, please call So-and-so at my office who will take
very good care of you. Then turn away and start walking.

If people come up to you and ask about medical details or want to tell
you stories about their own or a friend’s experience, do the traffic cop
routine again, and say, I’m only talking about medical things with my
doctor and family. Thanks for your good wishes but let’s focus on other
aspects of life, preferably ones that are filled with hope. Walk away as
needed if they do not comply, and don’t worry what anyone says or

Sobbing Sister

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My sister died in much more discomfort than necessary. She had
breast cancer for too long. She went through several rounds of chemo
early, and then it went into remission. We had a long good period of
time, but when it cam roaring back it came through everyone’s lives
like a freight train. I think we had all pushed it to the back of our
minds and were afraid to acknowledge that the change might not last.
In her last days she was in a hospital under a lot of medical care to
keep the pain and complications to a minimum. On her floor was a
very loud patient. I do not know what he was being treated for, but he
was clearly very unhappy with everything and made sure that
everyone in a big radius knew of all his complaints. We were trying to
keep Deborah’s passing gentle (think harp music and low prayers) and
this man was not just disruptive but a severe hindrance. The nurses
acted like we were being fussy until the complaints from other
patients’ families got loud enough and they finally moved him. I know
part of my anger is grief, but what can I do to make sure others do not
die this way?

Sobbing Sister

Dear Sobbing Sister:

In such circumstances, protecting the dying person is the single most
important thing.

Nurses have a great deal of authority but it is not unlimited. In the
future, should God forbid you encounter such circumstances, I would
do the following: Start with a complaint at the nurse’s station. Ask that
the disruptive patient be told to keep his/her voice down or s/he will
be moved into a room with a door that is kept closed. If that does not
work, start your way up the hospital food chain, both medical and
administrative. Ask each person to stand in the hallway outside your
sister’s room and listen for ten minutes to what other families are
being subjected to. That should be enough to do it. If not, ask your
doctor to request a room transfer to a different floor. As a last resort,
suggesting sotto voce that you prefer not to consult your attorney
should motivate almost any administrator.


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:


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.