DEAR AMY: This summer my 70-year-old husband became gravely ill. A few days after he was hospitalized, his niece sent a text to his phone to say she would be coming to our city with her daughter for a 10-day-long cheerleading camp. She announced they planned to stay at our home instead of the team’s hotel. Needless to say, I was distraught over my husband’s illness and overwhelmed with keeping his five siblings apprised of his condition every night when I got home from the hospital. I sent my niece a text regarding his hospitalization and explained how gravely ill he was. She made no offer to stay somewhere else, and showed up at our house. While at our home, she made no overture to help with any meals, run any errands or visit my husband in the hospital. She spent much of the time watching television on days when she didn’t attend competitions. One evening they left dirty laundry for me to wash. They went to bed. I was exhausted, frightened about my husband’s illness, and I wanted privacy at such a terrible time. I did NOT want guests in my home whom I had met only twice. After they left, I found trash, food scraps, and loads of towels and bedding to launder. What should I have done, short of shouting, “Go away,” which is what I wanted to do? Perhaps this letter can serve as a heads-up for people to be more considerate when dealing with ill family members.
DEAR DISTRAUGHT: Shouting “Go away!” sounds completely appropriate, given the circumstances you describe.
You are offended by the lack of consideration, as well as these family members’ refusal to basically read your circumstances and respond compassionately.
However, some people are like that. They see a straight line pointing to what they want, and they take it.
You are facing the very first test of a caregiver, which is the need to take care of yourself, in order to take care of your loved one.
To take good care of yourself, you will have to learn to say “no,” “stop” and, yes, “go away.”
It can be very hard to say these things, but it gets easier when you realize that exhaustion and anger interfere with your ability to get through the day. Marshaling the power of a definite “no” is one way of being a strong and able advocate for your husband.
DEAR AMY: After my two granddaughters’ last visit (ages 13 and 11), my son informed me that they had recorded one of our conversations. My son was upset by the content of the conversation, but not by the fact that these two secretly recorded me. It makes me wonder how often they’ve done this and who else they have done this to. (The girls have a lot of overnight play dates at their friends’ homes.) I am really upset about this. Should I be? Now I don’t allow the phones in my home, and this is creating a real problem. Is this a violation of my privacy?
DEAR FRUSTRATED: Yes, secretly recording you is a violation of your privacy. Yes, it is wrong of these girls to do this (it is also illegal in some states).
But this sort of behavior is within the normal range for younger adolescents, who are devoted to testing, pushing and experimenting.
Maybe when you were that age you prank-called people? This is an equivalent, and I agree that there are unintended (and intended) consequences of their choice to do this.
I hope you will use this episode as an opportunity to talk to these girls about privacy — not only yours, but theirs. I don’t think you should ban phones from your home, but forgive them for this episode and be open to the possibility that they will have learned from it.
DEAR AMY: “Angry in Iowa” described childhood with an alcoholic parent. I had a mother like hers. My mother isolated, manipulated and lied to us. To people outside the house, she was a saint. I left home and did not see her for more than a decade. When she died, I was treated like a terrible child. No one believed me. The option of counseling did not exist during the ’60s.
Trying to Heal
DEAR TRYING: Counseling is an option now, and I hope you’ll take it.