Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

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Advice on manners and morals.
Dec. 22 2005 7:04 AM

Last Words

What can I say to my dying mother?


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My mother is dying of lung cancer and has less than six months to live. I want to send her a card just to tell her that I love her and appreciate the things she has done for me. My family is, and always has been, dysfunctional. I have never received so much as a hug from my mother. When I was 16, I decided to hug everyone in my family at a Christmas get-together. (In my family those gatherings meant playing poker for money and drinking—even the kids.) Everyone thought I was on drugs because I hugged them. Mom and I have been on silent terms several times in the past, as we are now. The most recent episode was about her driving. She shouldn't have been driving, and I told her so. She has not talked to me since that day. (She has Parkinson's, seven collapsed vertebrae, hearing loss, and dementia, not to mention the cancer. Her social worker said there was no way to stop her from driving. What is up with that, anyway?) She is in an assisted living apartment and now is on oxygen. I hope that you can help me find the right things to say to her, as she gets mad so easily. I am at a loss for words. Thanks for any help you can offer a daughter.


Dear C,
How very sad for you to have grown up as you did, to try to do the right thing and then be rebuffed. You clearly have triumphed over the dysfunction, so your understanding must be good. As for how to say goodbye to your mother, the dementia may get in the way of her really understanding anything you say, but by all means send the card you have in mind, telling her that you love her and appreciate the things she's done for you. You will feel you have done the kind thing, and if she is beyond taking it in, so be it. As for the social worker, this one sounds like she's a quart low, and unfortunately just having the certificate does not guarantee smarts or common sense. Prudie hopes you keep in mind that your mother's illnesses have a great deal to do with her anger, and that deep down she may in fact be proud of you.


—Prudie, sadly

Dear Prudence,
My dad has a diagnosis of cancer and it doesn't look good. In the last few years I have lost other close relatives/in-laws to this disease and I feel like I am just faking it if I am positive. My dad went through this with my mom, caring for her through a horrendous diagnosis and decline. Not a single person close to me who's faced this has survived. There are no inspiring survivor tales among my loved ones. I know I must go through this with my dad, and I love him and am happy to help him, but am I awful to hope that it is over quickly? I know my dad doesn't have much hope, anyway. He fights depression and alcoholism even without this issue. I don't think he has any fight in him. I think he might even be considering suicide. Should I be Pollyanna, or should I just encourage him to do what he thinks best? I feel as though I am a horrible daughter to even consider giving up without a fight, but after spending every other year in dramatic deathbed marathons and being the supportive child/grandchild/wife/niece/daughter-in-law/cousin, I wish they had a rest home for support people and that I could just go hide under the covers until it is over. Any suggestions on how to maintain my sanity as I go through hell yet again?

—Emotionally Tapped Out

Dear Em,
Prudie can only imagine your anguish at going through these losses, seemingly one after the other. You are in no way a terrible person to wish that your father's illness would end, however it ends. Prudie is not one who believes in phoniness in the face of death, and many docs agree, though certainly not all. While hope is a valuable asset for everyone when dealing with terminal illness, in some cases one must just follow the patient's lead. People who know they are dying welcome the truth, and not everyone wishes to "fight." In your case, by all means do not play Pollyanna, and do encourage your dad to do what he thinks is best for him. As for you, you sound heroic and just to know you're not alone, you might try a support group for caregivers. You can say anything there and draw strength from people just like you.


—Prudie, understandingly

Dear Prudie,
I've had a good guy friend for over two years. I never thought I believed in such nonsense, but it was love at first sight for me. We have the same values, interests, and we also have some of the same racial background. I have never had a friend like him. We have both changed considerably for the better since we met. I love him very much and he has caught on and said we must remain just friends. I was upset and assumed it was because I am overweight (so is he, actually) and he said the most astonishing thing: "It's nothing physical, it's the chemistry. It's just not there." I didn't understand that. Chemistry? At first I thought it was hopeless; you can't make a man love you. But then I thought of all the men who've won women's hearts. I suppose my question is, How does a woman "woo" a man?

—Waiting for Love

Dear Wait,
Cyrano de Bergerac aside, this is an esoteric if not impenetrable question. The concept of "chemistry," difficult to pin down, does have one aspect that is knowable: It is reciprocity. Chemistry may be thought of as one set of protoplasm/hormones/genes calling out to another; a kind of mutual attraction. Men do woo women, but these situations involve a woman who is amenable to being wooed. And vice versa, of course; women do woo men, but chemistry, my dear, is the one thing you cannot inject into a relationship and the one thing without which it cannot go forward.


—Prudie, regretfully

Dear Prudie,
I'm a 27-year-old social butterfly but I have a problem. Why do people feel the need to use words that aren't a part of everyday vocabulary? I'm sorry, but if there's a word that someone brings up in a conversation that I don't understand, I don't want to stop them in the middle of the sentence and pick up a dictionary just to find the meaning of the word. Can you please tell the brainiacs and intellectuals that not everyone is a walking dictionary?

—Dictionary for Dummies

Dear Dic,
Prudie would ask you a question in return: When you take people to task for using words not a part of "everyday vocabulary," whose everyday vocabulary? The so-called two-dollar words used to show off one's erudition are never welcome, but to talk down to people would seem equally unwelcome. Everyone at a social gathering will never have the same vocabulary, education, etc. (unless you're at a scientific or technical meeting). The underlying question here may well be: Does one converse in the lowest common denominator because someone may not know what you know? In your case, you might ask the speaker, "What does that word mean?" Prudie has done this. Sometimes you can figure it out from the context. As you can tell, Prudie does not support your basic premise, but hopes this does not leave you querulous or irascible.

—Prudie, succinctly