Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.
Dec. 15 2005 6:57 AM

No News Is Bad News

What to say to inquiries about a loved one's progressive illness.

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Get "Dear Prudence" delivered to your inbox each week; click here to sign up. Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. (Questions may be edited.)

Dear Prudence,
I am a 24-year-old woman looking for a way to tactfully address a particular issue. My mother is in the later stages of Huntington's disease, a genetic neurodegenerative disorder. Most people have never heard of it, so when they ask, I compare it to Parkinson's, since it is somewhat similar but much more visible. The problem is: What do I say when people ask, "How's your mom?" It's irritating because the disease is slow and progressive, and there will never be any good news until I can say, "She's gone to a better place." I can't think of an appropriate answer that will not prompt further conversation. Recently a few of her old friends have called or written letters to her. She cannot respond to them, and I know my father (who should be nominated for sainthood) will not. I feel the need to tell them something, though last time I talked to one of them she said she would like to visit my mother. This would only be upsetting for everyone involved. Please give me an idea of an acceptable response to these inquiries.

—No Reprieve

Dear No,
Prudie happens to know about Huntington's because her mother was on the board of the Huntington's Foundation. It is, indeed, a little-known and difficult disease, and certainly one that might preclude visitors. Because you write that your father does not wish to deal with outsiders' queries, it falls to you (for which you get the Good Daughter Award). Regarding those who want to go see her—and Prudie hopes you understand they are offering a hand of friendship—simply say she is not receiving visitors because the illness has taken its toll. For people who inquire after her, simply say, "Things are not good, but I appreciate your asking."

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—Prudie, supportively

Dear Prudie,
I've always loved the idea of getting married and having children. I'm still young and fully intend to wait a few years before I do. But I have this little thing in the way. I am seriously scared of commitment. I've been in love but never enough to make me stay around for a long time. All my ex-boyfriends are wonderful men and any girl would be lucky to have them. And I just run away from all of them and into another man's arms. Then they want to get serious and I run again. The women in my family don't exactly have the best track record for marriages, either. My mother cheated on and left my father, and my sister left her husband after 10 days of marriage. I don't want to hurt a good man like my father and former brother-in-law. How can I get over this sudden wave of fear every time a guy mentions marriage to me? I'm tired of running and don't want to be alone forever. Isthere such a thing as soul mates, and how will I know not to throw him back like all the others?

—Tired of Running

Dear Tire,
Interesting that you recognize your fear of commitment; this is usually a problem men have, and one that drives women crazy. Prudie salutes your self-awareness and would suggest a few approaches. Perhaps with the help of a therapist, you need to integrate the fact that what happened with your parents is not necessarily destined to happen to you. Granted, kids with multimarried and unfaithful parents can unconsciously repeat their actions, but then again, many of them deliberately work to avoid the same mistakes, and succeed. As an opening gambit, try to see each boyfriend as a friend, not a potential husband. Get comfortable and see where things go. Because you wish to marry and have children, judge each man who crosses your radar by his qualities and how he makes you feel—not by memories of your less than successful family history. You are you. As for "soul mates," Prudie believes that concept has morphed into a cliché, and no, she doesn't believe there is only one person in the universe who's meant to be the one. (Prudie, in fact, has found several.) Prudie predicts you will find someone wonderful if you just put a lid on your fears and let life happen. Good luck.

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—Prudie, easily

Dear Prudence,
I have a large, wonderful family I love and would do anything for, and they feel the same about me. I can talk to any of them about anything, except the problem I'm writing to you about: their gift-giving habits. My family members give me gifts of tacky, gaudy trinkets that I have no use for. Every time they return from a vacation or a shopping trip for Christmas or my birthday, they announce, "We have a great present for you!" I cringe inwardly, thinking of what unnecessary thing they've bought me this time. I'm grateful that they thought about me, but the things they choose are simply awful and don't mesh with my taste at all. It's as though they still think of me as a 10-year-old girl in her "hippie" phase, buying gigantic yellow smiley faces or purple sun and moon hanging mobiles. How do I politely let them know that now that I'm 21, I'd prefer more thoughtful and mature gifts?

—Appreciative but Annoyed

Dear Ap,
This is tough, as you already know, because of the nature of gifts and gift-giving. Some people just have no taste, even if they have the money. Your family may, perhaps, still think of you as a kid. About the only suggestion Prudie can make is that you either "admire" something in a window or drop a broad hint about whatever it is that you'd love to have. Further than that you cannot go. And if the situation never improves, just remind yourself that these are swell people you love and with whom you have a great relationship.

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—Prudie, appropriately

Dear Prudence,
I might be the only one who is annoyed by this, but it makes me angry when people use the phrase "nice" to reply to something I say. My friends actually do this all the time, but I don't want to offend them by saying "No, not nice." For instance, I will say, "I tripped when I was walking and I have a huge scrape on my leg," and some friend would reply, "Nice ..." and I want to say, "No! Not nice! I have a huge scrape on my leg and it hurts. Would you call that nice?" I think it is a rude, not very thoughtful thing to say. When people do say this to me, I figure that they have nothing else to say. I have even heard it on TV commercials and the radio, and it's getting hard to deal with my little pet peeve. Any advice?

Not Nice

Dear Not,
Um, the response "Nice" in the example you mention, is called irony. It's been popular for quite a while, certainly since Socrates, and is often intended to be humorous. That is why you're hearing it on TV and radio. Perhaps the best way to define the ironic response would be to say that it is the opposite of the expected reply ... hence, irony. Of course none of your friends think it's really nice that you tripped and hurt your leg. Prudie's guess is that your friends think it's cooler to show their sympathy by saying, "Nice," rather than, "What a bummer, you've hurt your leg."

Prudie, paradoxically