Carolyn Hax: Love is the greatest gift one can give

Carolyn Hax:

The Washington PostMay 28, 2013 

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Carolyn: I pride myself on being a person who doesn't get emotional and can logically work through any problems life throws at me. But I have no idea how to get through my current situation.

My dad is dealing with serious health issues that his doctors haven't been able to diagnose - ALS is a possibility; my mom (divorced from my dad) is bipolar and suffering from major anxiety to the point she can't travel; and my grandmother is recovering from cancer surgery. I have no idea how to help them deal with their health problems and I'm scared of how helpless I feel. Any recommendations for support groups or advice to help me get through things one day at a time?

FEELING OVERWHELMED

That does sound overwhelming; I'm sorry. Funny that you use "one day at a time," because what came to mind as I was reading your words was a staple of 12-step programs. Your happy atheist advice-maker proudly presents the serenity prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference.

Applied to your situation: Please accept that you can't diagnose or heal your father, can't remove your grandmother's cancer, can't soothe your mother's anxiety away, can't avoid pain.

What you can do is show people you love them. You can call and write just to say hello and listen; you can offer whatever help you're able to provide (bringing by a meal, filling out insurance claims, making calls for them, etc.); if they live far away, you can plot out when you can visit, for how long and how often, and what you can accomplish when you get there.

You can also contact your local hospice, as a reader suggested, about support groups.

Perhaps the biggest thing you can do is for yourself, inside, by tackling this: "I pride myself on being a person who doesn't get emotional and can logically work through any problems life throws at me."

Taking pride in our strengths helps keep our spirits up and engines running, but too rigid a self-definition can become a straitjacket.

Email tellme@washpost.com. Chat online at 10 a.m. Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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