Ask Amy Amy Dickinson, Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

DEAR READERS: I’ve stepped away from my column for a week while I put the finishing touches on my new book, which will be published in the fall. Please enjoy these “Best Of” columns in my absence. I’ll be back with your fresh questions and answers next week.

DEAR AMY: About 18 months ago, my mother handed me an envelope marked: “Open Upon My Death.” While it seemed consistent with her penchant for high drama, I didn’t think much of it and put it away in a drawer. I recently came across the envelope, and it has been gnawing at me. I have not had the best relationship with my mother, but I maintain that I have been a good son. She has been hard on me, at times cruel. That is not just my perception. It is pretty much universally agreed upon by my family. I have tried to talk with my parents, but they prefer to let sleeping dogs lie. The funeral arrangements for both my parents have been worked out. They had me sit with them at a funeral home a few years back. They even have written their obituaries. I doubt the letter has anything to do with arrangements. I now have the very real feeling that the letter might be her final drop-kick to me after she’s gone. It would be especially hurtful, because I would have to deal with it for the rest of my life. I have been debating opening the letter, visiting a therapist to get an opinion, or asking my mother about the contents. I doubt that the last choice would do much good. They are in their 80s, and this might be too much to confront them with. I have promised myself that I can hold my head high whatever it says, although that might be difficult. I am inclined to open the letter in front of her, but I run the risk of isolation. What should I do?

Torn (Over) Letter

DEAR TORN: You have the right to your own peace of mind. Your parents could have chosen to leave the letter in their home, with their lawyer or in a safe-deposit box; their choice to leave this with you as a ticking time bomb is like something out of a Dickens novel.

Find a therapist. My instinct is that you should either go ahead and read the letter, or bring it to your parents and ask them directly about its contents. But you should do so only if you are convinced that you can handle the consequences without much help from them.

Obviously, this letter could contain some fairly benign issues. If, however, it does disclose some sort of bombshell, you will then have to decide whether to confront your parents about its contents. This would be much easier to navigate with the support of a counselor. (February 2007)

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DEAR AMY: My family is in the process of building a new home. We are living on-site (in a garage apartment) while our house is under construction. A neighborhood family is in the beginning stages of construction on a home. This couple and their children have come by our construction site unannounced several times within the past few months. Upon entering our construction site, they announce that they are just “checking things out.” My spouse and I are in the construction/design business, and we do not appreciate being used for free advice on everything from materials to products. No matter how unfinished the job site appears, this property is our home. How do we deal with these nosy and rude drop-ins in a mature and efficient manner?

Concerned About Construction

DEAR CONCERNED: Would these people enter your home and help themselves to a cup of coffee while you’re cooking dinner, just to “check out” how your dinner’s coming along? OK. Maybe they would. But they should be stopped.

In addition to being intrusive and annoying to you, no one should wander around a construction site uninvited. If your temporary flooring gave way and one of them landed in your basement, then you’d be liable.

Because these people don’t seem to respect common-sense boundaries, you’re going to have to introduce them to the concept.

Simply tell them that you aren’t showing your home to anyone until it’s finished. If they pump you for free design and construction advice, say, “Here’s my business card. Give me a call and we’ll set up an appointment for a consultation during business hours.” (February 2007)