Ask Amy Amy Dickinson, Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

DEAR AMY: I’m a 36-year-old woman who is lucky enough to have a large and wonderful family — with one exception: My 85-year-old grandmother, who ruins nearly every get-together with disparaging comments, usually aimed at her family. She mouths off about our appearance, intelligence and behavior. She has also made a lifelong habit of horribly racist and ill-informed insults toward anyone who is not white. My parents and their siblings and spouses choose to ignore her, saying that she is old and lonely, and it is “not worth it” to confront her. I want to respect their wishes, but also cannot stand this woman, who was a physically abusive and cruel parent to my mother when she was a child. I would also like to shield my 3-year-old daughter from her influence. Is there anything I can do, when forced to be in her presence? — Fed-up with Mean Grandma

DEAR FED-UP: It might be worthwhile for you to try to engage with your grandmother in a deeper way before you give up on her and assume your family’s stance of ignoring her. Do not attempt this with your 3-year-old in tow, but if you have a chance, you could say to her, “Grandma — you don’t seem very happy, and you don’t seem happy with the family. I’m very sorry that’s the case, but I can’t figure out why.” And then sit quietly with her and see if she has anything illuminating to say.

Realistically, you will not arrive at a breakthrough moment. You will not undo anything and your grandmother will not change. But if you were able to dig deep, you might find that your grandmother was raised by people who were cruel to her. Perhaps she suffered from poverty, disappointment, disillusionment. This does not excuse her behavior, but it might explain it. The point is not for you to necessarily feel better about her, but to reach a point of understanding where you feel for her. Her bitterness is to be pitied, and this is how you should frame things for your young daughter if she witnesses and is affected by an outburst: “Great-grandma isn’t happy and sometimes she says mean things to people. I wish she would be nicer.”

DEAR AMY: I have never mentioned this to any siblings, but have to my cousins (who say I am right). My mother passed away over 10 years ago. I am the oldest of seven. When my mom passed, my youngest sister (who lived with my parents) kept my mother’s lovely engagement diamond ring. I guess at the time we did not think much about it. I have not seen the ring since then. My sister has since gotten married and has her own diamond ring, plus my mother’s is too small for her. I believe the oldest should have gotten the ring. I would love to have and wear it, not for the monetary value but because it had been my mother’s. Of course, when I die my sister could have it back. What do you think? — Old and Wondering

DEAR WONDERING: If your younger sister lived with your parents until your mother’s death, your mother might have given her the ring before she died, in which case it wouldn’t be part of her estate. You don’t seem to know what your mother’s intention was regarding this ring.

Conventionally the eldest daughter would receive an heirloom such as this, but this practice dates to a time when the eldest son would also receive the land and horses.

I’m not sure why you should receive this ring over another of your siblings, but if you want it, you should ask your sister if she would be willing to part with it. It obviously means a great deal to you and she might be happy to hand it over. It is not owed to you, however.

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DEAR AMY: When we were first married, my husband was faced with the same problem described in the letter from “Upset.” His mother wanted to manage our life. Being a new wife I resented that! My husband was caught in the middle, with each of us expecting him to take our side. Being a very smart man, he told us, “Hey, look, there’s no way I can win. I love you both, so you two fight it out.” With that he walked away. Over time we did work things out because we both loved him. — Happy it Worked

DEAR HAPPY: You married a smart guy.