While I’m away, readers give the advice.
On feeling depleted by a deep emotional loss:
Many fear opening up, giving, loving in all situations. My greatest lesson after a profound loss was that the love I gave came from me and was therefore not lost, arising from a quality within me. We can’t control anyone else, really. Yet, the confidence with which we love others can be infectious.
On trying to change a spouse’s annoying habits:
The difference between annoying and adorable is the attitude of the observer. A long time ago I made a conscious decision that all of my wife’s habits were adorable. Being able to step back while she is snoring her brains out and saying to myself, “Isn’t that adorable!” made all the difference. After all, her snoring isn’t the issue; the issue is my reaction to her snoring. So who owns the problem, me or her? If I do, it’s on me to solve it, not her.
With My Adorable Wife for 28 Years
On abruptly facing an elderly relative’s need for care:
I sometimes supplement my income by senior-sitting those in need of temporary help. Recently, a family offered me a position to live (without my dog) 24/7 in their mother’s home as her aide, caregiver, housekeeper, cook, laundress, hairdresser, chauffeur, med-tech, and personal-care provider. The “terms” (their word) offered were: free room and board, two full weekends off each month, most holidays off, and a “stipend” (also their word) of $100 a week. Essentially, they want the Care Fairy to come see to their mother and the house, and will give the Care Fairy a weekly allowance for the privilege.
This family is desperate, of course. They have slipped right on over into the fantasy world between Denial and Magical Thinking, completely unable to grasp the situation now upon them. So, I did not overreact when I said no thank you. I was polite, citing specific reasons, nevertheless they were stupefied that I was not interested.
Adults who are now, or soon will be, part of the sandwich generation: This is in your future. The time to talk about it is now, not the day after “something happens.” You might not have a legal right to see your parents’ financials, but you have the moral right to ask to be a part of their advance planning and directives. Do it before feelings are irreparably hurt and tempers flare, and before you later offend or insult every friend, neighbor, acquaintance, or extended-family member in your frantic search for help.
On careers and fulfillment as two separate things:
When I was taking a break from grad school in the late ‘60s, I worked in the parcel post in Oakland, Calif., and met an older postal clerk, a step up from me as a mail-handler. He told me he did that job so he could take care of his family and engage in his passion: making objects out of beautiful woods in his workshop, which he built on the money he made doing mindless work. Most important: He was content! For a wandering, unsettled 23-year-old, that was vital knowledge.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.