DEAR AMY: I have not seen my mother in four years. She is an alcoholic, and she had long refused to get sober. My mother has alienated the entire family and has never met her 2-year-old grandson. Recently, I started to communicate with her via email. I believe that she is sober as a result of some medical conditions that have forced her to stop drinking. They are not terminal conditions, but I think that she is finally not drinking. What would be the best way to bring her back into our lives? What do we talk about? I have lots of resentment from her ignoring and blaming everyone for the last seven years, however, I am ready for her to be part of our family and to finally meet her grandson.
Waiting to Reunite in N.J.
DEAR WAITING: You would be wise to take this reunification in small and manageable stages. You should progress from email to a phone call to see how that goes (some people do well communicating via written exchange, but don't do as well verbally, when they can't control and edit their contact).
You should then see if she would meet you in person, preferably with just the two of you. Yes, this could end up being one of those awkward highway exit diner lunches where nobody really knows what to say, but bring photos and videos to share with her, and keep your expectations reasonable.
Is your mother really sober, or is she just not currently drinking? There is a difference. Sobriety requires an embrace and a daily determination to live a sober life, and address all the challenges sobriety entails, including a willingness to face some emotional consequences, try to repair relationships, and take responsibility for her choices. Your mother needs to be ready and able to try.
If she is not currently using alcohol but hasn't attempted to confront the factors that contributed to her addiction, then it will be as if she has just put her drinking on hold, and the underlying challenges will still be there.
Reunification requires a degree of emotional bravery from both of you, and you deserve credit for your willingness to go there.
Your journey through the minefield of addiction would be made easier if you (and other family members) attended Al-Anon or other "friends and family" support meetings (al-anon.org). I cannot overstate the importance of connecting with others in this way.
DEAR AMY: Recently several siblings and their offspring (and I) all cleaned out my dad's basement and garage — with his permission. Some of us helped during the day, and others showed up after work to help. It took us three days to clean everything out. Dad told those of us who helped to take what we wanted. One sibling and their offspring didn't show up to help (they had to work). A couple of days after we had finished, the sibling who didn't help at all came over to look at the items that were left and started complaining that everything they wanted was gone. I explained that Dad said that those who helped got first pick. Now the sibling is mad because their family didn't get the items they wanted. How should we have handled this? Since that person didn't do any of the work most of us think that sibling should have gotten the last pick of items. Any advice?
Confused and Angry
DEAR CONFUSED: Why are YOU angry? Are you angry because your sibling is bellyaching? If so, get over it.
The rules regarding this cleanup were clear and easy to understand.
This is a classic snooze equals lose situation. Your sibling didn't hop up to help, and so that sibling hasn't had first pick.
If that sibling wants to negotiate with other family members regarding specific items they wanted to keep, they could offer to barter, trade, or buy them.
DEAR AMY: The letter from "A from Minnesota" hit me in the gut. Like "A," I also had lots of dreams about my mother after she died. I didn't know what to make of them, and I found them to be very upsetting. I would wake up in tears. Eventually, the dreams seemed to change, and I did what you advised — I let the dreams in. I saw this as my mother trying to help me to grieve.
DEAR BETTER: I had a similar experience to yours, which I used to answer "A's" question.