Ask Amy Amy Dickinson, Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

DEAR AMY: My 94-year-old father just told me that, decades ago, a family “friend” raped my mother. My mom passed away last year. This “friend” died many years ago, so there’s nothing I can do to address the allegation. I cannot even determine if it’s true. Nevertheless, this information is quite disturbing. I wonder if I can or should disclose this to my sister, my wife or my children — or anybody other than, perhaps, my therapist or clergy (if I had either).

Burdened

DEAR BURDENED: First, you should sit with your father and ask him to tell you everything he wants you to know. Ask him how he feels about what he is telling you. Give him lots of time to either respond or to sit quietly.

Tell him you are very sorry he has been carrying this burden and let him know that you will carry it, now.

Yes, you should tell your wife, because you need comforting, and you need to talk about this. Yes, you should tell your sister, because you two are family, and she needs to know.

Elderly people sometimes relive periods of trauma that they have more or less successfully buried for long periods of time. This is a phenomenon common to people who have fought in wars or who’ve been victims of crime or violence.

Your father should be given plenty of opportunities to talk about this — or anything else — with you, friends or other family members, clergy and/or a therapist. The loss of your mother has no doubt brought on some extreme challenges for him — including feelings of grief and guilt. Help him through this.

Make sure your father is sleeping and eating well, and keep a close and loving eye on him. Keep in touch with his doctor, who can screen him for depression or other possible health issues.

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DEAR AMY: I am a stay-at-home mother of two young preschool children. I baby-sit for my sister’s 6-month-old boy while she is at work. Their older daughter goes to school. Recently, my nephew and his sister have been very sick with a nasty cough and fever that their pediatrician diagnosed as viral. My sister is a teacher and is reluctant to miss work to care for her children, so I agreed to baby-sit when my nephew was sick. Both of my kids, my husband and I caught the illness and were very sick for more than two weeks. Now that we are recovered, my niece and nephew are sick again. Should I refuse to baby-sit when my nephew is sick? Is that shirking responsibility? Is it irresponsible of me to expose my young children to illness? I am torn because while I want to care for my nephew, I want to protect my children/immediate family so we can function. What should I do?

Torn

DEAR TORN: I shared your question with Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, associate professor of Pediatrics at The University of Wisconsin School of Medicine. He responds: “Viral respiratory infections are usually spread through direct contact or droplets from a sneeze. Most infection occurs when we touch an infected surface and then touch our own eyes, nose, or mouth. Training yourself to wash your hands with soap/water or hand sanitizer before leaving or touching your own face will reduce your risk of becoming ill, and of bringing any illnesses home to your family. This is why health care professionals work with sick people all the time and aren’t constantly ill!”

Presumably pediatricians don’t have their own children in the exam rooms while they are exposed to viral illnesses, but your kids are with you when you care for this baby. You should teach them healthy hand-washing, but you can also expect them to be exposed.

You don’t want to continue to pass this viral illness back and forth between households, so — yes — you should ask your sister for a break for a couple of days in order for everyone to recover.

DEAR AMY: Thank you for your response to “Disgusted in the Bathroom,” who is grossed out when co-workers brush their teeth in the restroom. I brush my teeth after every lunch. I wonder where Disgusted would like me to go to do this? Given what people do in the bathroom, I am the one who should be disgusted.

Hygienic

DEAR HYGIENIC: As I pointed out in my response, you are more at risk for contamination than “Disgusted.”