Dear Amy: My father is on the far side of a debilitating and eventually terminal neurological disorder. He’s not able to dress himself anymore, his language is mostly gone, and it’s generally sad and depressing all around. My mother is his full-time caregiver, and my siblings and I all live in different states.
I am often asked by friends, extended family, coworkers etc., “How’s your dad doing?” or, “How are your parents?,” especially after I return from a visit home.
After years of trying to spin things more positively than truthfully, I’ve been defaulting lately to, “Not good” or “He’s worse; he’ll never be better.”
These responses typically make people grimace or apologize. I certainly don’t intend to bring on this response.
My question to you: Is there a better way to answer this question honestly without being a real Debbie Downer?
The people asking already know about his condition, so they aren’t expecting sunshine and rainbows, but I know that just because I’ve fully accepted how bad things are doesn’t mean other people want an honest answer from me.
Follow up question: When people apologize regarding his condition, how am I supposed to respond?
I usually shrug and say that I’m at peace with the situation, but again, this seems needlessly awkward and often makes me feel (and probably appear) callous.
– Depressing (but not depressed!) Daughter
Dear Daughter: I’m so sorry you are going through this.
Do you perceive that statement as an apology? Because it is not. In this context, “I’m sorry” is an expression of commiseration and empathy. Your friends are saying “I’m sorry this is happening.” Because they are.
(Occasionally, people delivering tough personal news respond to an “I’m sorry” response by saying, “Why? It’s not your fault,” and this is a dismissive response to a person who is trying to be kind.)
Does telling the truth about your father’s condition make you a “Debbie Downer”? No.
“Woe is me, I don’t deserve this, every visit home is a depressing nightmare for me and nobody is stepping up to help” is how Debbie would spin her tale.
You suppose that your local friends and extended family members “don’t want” an honest answer to their polite queries, but I think they do want your honesty, even if the unvarnished truth makes them feel inadequate in the moment.
You can encourage further communication (if that’s what you want), not by shrugging, but by saying, “Thank you so much for always asking about my folks. I really appreciate it, even when the news isn’t good.”
Dear Amy: When people die, are items their children (or grandchildren) gave them considered property of the parents, or are the items given back to whomever gave them to the deceased?
Example: A grandchild gave grandparents a valuable item years ago.
The grandchild slept in the house for a couple of days after the funeral.
When they left, they took the item off the wall and took it with them.
Also, one of the grandparent’s children visited the house and took some items that their sibling had given to the grandparent.
What is considered the proper etiquette in this situation?
Dear Wondering: This isn’t an etiquette question. It’s more about theft, really.
The grandparents’ belongings are property of the estate, and should be left in the home until the estate is settled. The executor or administrator of the estate is in charge of administering the will and the process of dispersing possessions.
The best way to divide possessions is with the heirs’ full assent and cooperation.
If a grandparent left her property to her children, ideally these children would gather in the house and peacefully divide possessions according to an organized system (my family used a lottery system).
Yes, gifts given to the deceased are often returned to the person who gave them, but it is vital that the heirs agree to this.
Removing things from the home without the knowledge or agreement of the heirs leads to problems. And occasionally – lawsuits.
Dear Amy: “Alarmed Wife” was concerned because her older husband was private messaging with a much younger woman on Facebook.
Thank you for pointing out that this is likely a “catfish.” You didn’t suggest the ongoing ramifications of this, however. Catfish scams are popular, and they often lead to financial abuse.
Alarmed should carefully check their bank accounts. This scam often leads to requests for money or gift cards. How do I know? I got scammed!
– Been There
Dear Been There: Great advice. Thank you.