DEAR AMY: About two months ago my husband’s grandfather was diagnosed with cancer. Despite the doctor urging him to reconsider, he decided to eschew traditional western medicine in favor of holistic treatments. He’s since gotten drastically worse, has lost 35 pounds (he was already very skinny), and spends most of his time in bed. The treatments aren’t working and despite several family members telling him how worried they are and begging him to seek treatment, he refuses. It’s his life and so his choice to make, but it’s tearing the family apart. Half of these family members are suspicious of chemotherapy. They hold out hope that he’ll improve, while the other half feel that he’s needlessly letting himself die, and hold their other family members somewhat accountable for encouraging his decision to forgo medical treatment. Everybody’s already said their piece — is there anything else that can be done? Additionally, I never know what to say or how to comfort my husband when we talk about his grandpa. I listen and provide what little hopeful comments I can, but it always feels inadequate. Do you have any suggestions?
DEAR UPSET: The grandfather’s closest family members should approach him about having a hospice worker visit the house to talk with him (check with his physician for a referral). The hospice movement has a special focus on providing palliative care to ill people. The patient continues to be in charge, and the hospice worker provides comfort care, opportunities to talk, and can often be an important bridge between the ill person and upset family members.
My own experience with hospice is that when the hospice worker enters the scene, the emotional “temperature” shifts from hot to warm, as people finally let down their guard and release their need to defend their own position. Family members are encouraged to visit, reminisce, laugh and cry — rather than continue to obsess about choices the patient is making.
This is a time for you to provide a quiet, supportive presence to your husband, rather than leaping in to try to fix things for him. Listen and sympathize, treat him tenderly, don’t offer up too much extraneous commentary or gossip about his family members, and understand that this is a tough life passage and you can’t necessarily make things better for him. Walking alongside him as he experiences this may be the most you can do.
DEAR AMY: I’m a woman in my late 20s. I don’t have any friends. I graduated college a few years ago, with lots of student loans. My full-time job pays OK, but I still have to supplement my income with part-time employment. Working seven days a week puts a big damper on any social prospects. I don’t have time or energy to volunteer, attend church or join “meet up” groups. I’ve made some acquaintances at work and at the gym, but because of my social anxiety it never goes beyond small talk. I’m too old for the bar/partying scene. I don’t have a partner or child, so I don’t fit in with the “family” types. I’m at a loss. Do you have any advice?
Introverted but Lonely
DEAR LONELY: There is nothing “wrong” with being an introvert, but you report being lonely and socially isolated. Because of your tough schedule, it might help for you to work on ways to turn some of the glancing connections and acquaintances you already have into something more.
I enjoy the work of Chris MacLeod, a Canadian social worker who has written extensively about how he dealt with his own social anxiety and attendant isolation when he was your age. His website, succeedsocially.com is packed with articles, tips, and checklists of steps to try, which he helpfully ranks from “easy” (researching local places to hang out) to “difficult” (asking an acquaintance to make plans with you). The idea is to take this in stages, and learn as you go.
You are already going to a gym (good for you) — and now exploring other ways to improve your social habits or behavior might provide some more positive change in your life.
DEAR AMY: Thank you so much for your comments to “In Love in the South,” the 20-year-old woman who was so itchy to get married. You didn’t just tell her not to do it — you gave her practical reasons (and ways) to wait to get hitched. I wish I’d waited on my first marriage.
DEAR BEEN THERE: I think everyone with a first marriage wishes they’d waited.