Dear Amy: My father is on the other side of a debilitating and eventually terminal neurological disorder. He can no longer dress himself, his language has almost completely disappeared and, in general, everything is sad and depressing. My mother is his full-time caregiver and my siblings and I live in different states.
Often my friends, family, co-workers, etc. They ask me: “How is your dad?” or “How are your parents?”, especially after returning from a visit home.
After years of trying to put a more positive than sincere spin on it, lately I’ve opted to say “He’s no good” or “He’s worse; he will never be better.”
These responses often make people grimace or apologize. I certainly do not intend to provoke this response.
My question to you: Is there a better way to answer this question honestly without being a real Debbie Downer?
The people asking already know their condition, so they’re not expecting sunshine or rainbows, but I know that just because I’ve completely accepted how bad things are doesn’t mean other people want an honest answer from me.
Follow-up question: When people apologize for their condition, how am I supposed to respond?
I usually shrug my shoulders and say I’m at peace with the situation, but again, this seems unnecessarily uncomfortable and often makes me feel (and probably look) numb.
– Depressing daughter (but not depressed!)
Dear Daughter: I am so sorry you are going through this.
Do you perceive that statement as an apology? Because that is not it. In this context, “I’m sorry” is an expression of commiseration and empathy. Your friends say “I’m sorry this is happening.” Because they are.
(Occasionally, people breaking difficult personal news respond to “I’m sorry” by saying, “Why? It’s not your fault,” and this is a dismissive response to a person who is trying to be kind.)
Does telling the truth about your father’s condition make you a “Debbie Downer”? No.
“Woe is me, I don’t deserve this, every visit home is a depressing nightmare for me and no one comes forward to help,” is how Debbie would tell her story.
You assume your local friends and family members “don’t want” an honest answer to their polite questions, but I think they do want your honesty, even if the unvarnished truth makes them feel inadequate in the moment.
You can encourage more communication (if that’s what you want) not by shrugging your shoulders, but by saying, “Thank you so much for always asking about my parents. “I really appreciate it, even when the news is not good.”
Dear Amy: When a person dies, are items given to them by their children (or grandchildren) considered parental property, or are they returned to whoever gave them to the deceased?
Example: A grandson gave his grandparents a valuable object years ago.
The grandson slept in the house a couple of days after the funeral.
When they left, they removed the object from the wall and took it away.
In addition, one of the grandparents’ children visited the house and took some objects that his brother had given to the grandfather.
What is considered appropriate etiquette in this situation?
Dear Asking: This is not a question of etiquette. Actually, it’s more about theft.
The grandparents’ belongings are property of the estate, and must remain in the home until the estate is settled. The executor or administrator of the estate is in charge of administering the will and the process of dispersing the possessions.
The best way to divide assets is with the full consent and cooperation of the heirs.
If a grandparent left his property to his children, ideally these children would gather at the house and peacefully divide their possessions according to an organized system (my family used a lottery system).
Yes, gifts given to the deceased are often returned to the person who gave them, but it is vital that the heirs agree to this.
Taking things out of the house without the knowledge or agreement of the heirs causes problems. And occasionally – lawsuits.
Dear Amy: The “alarmed wife” was concerned because her older husband was private messaging a much younger woman on Facebook.
Thanks for pointing out that this is probably a “catfish”. However, he did not suggest the current ramifications of this. Catfish scams are popular and often lead to financial abuse.
The alarmed should carefully check their bank accounts. This scam often leads to requests for money or gift cards. How can I know? I was scammed!
– Been there
Dear Been There, Great advice. Thank you.
(You can email Amy Dickinson at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a letter to Ask Amy, PO Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)