Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat with readers about their romantic, family, financial, and workplace problems. An edited transcript of this week's chat is below. (Get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week; click here to sign up. Read Prudie's Slate columns here.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, everyone. I look forward to your questions.
Q. Dealing With My Mother's Death: My mother died in February after a long battle with cancer. She and I live in different countries but always tried to see each other a few times a year. I also have a sister who lives about two hours from my parents' house. My mother knew for some time that the end was near. My sister and I asked time and time again to see her, but we were told by her and my father that she didn't want to see us and that she wanted us to remember her as she was. While I was upset about this, I wasn't going to argue or upset her. The day after she died, my father called me to tell me she had died. He mentioned several times that she died peacefully while looking at photos of their cat and that her last words were to the effect that my father should look after the cat. Now, I know my parents love this cat, but I am hurt and upset that she had nothing to say about either my sister or me or any of our children (her grandkids). Fast forward to her obituary, which did not mention any of her grandchildren by name but had several sentences about the cat. This was an obituary that my mother wrote herself about six months before she died. I am struggling now, as I feel angry, and then guilty that I am angry. I feel like actual human family members are more important than feline ones. I want to get past this and have positive memories of my mother, but I am hurt by being cut out of her final moments and her favoritism of a cat, which sounds ridiculous, I know!
A: It's one thing to try to obey the wishes of one's ill loved ones. It's another to be excluded from the end of your mother's life so she could have more quality time with the cat. It sounds as if your parents were in a strange folie a deux (or maybe a trois, if you include Fluffy). It's too late, now, of course, but it would have been best if you and your sister had been able to say, "We understand visits are hard for Mom, but we'll arrive on little cat's feet and try not to tire her out."
She wanted you to remember her as she was, and that apparently included her being an obsessive cat lover. It might also help you if you considered that it's also possible that her illness and treatment affected her cognitive function—and that listening to a soothing purr was about all the interaction she could take. Sadly, your mother didn't get nine lives and hers is done. It's perfectly understandable that this ending leaves you angry and unsettled. Don't feel obligated to make a contribution in her name to the Humane Society. If you find you're emotionally stuck, short-term therapy could help you sort through this. But as you get over your grief and hurt, you will likely be able to remember her more fully, and not dwell on her strange, aloof ending.
Dear Prudence: Meddlesome Pediatrician?
Q. Please Help Me—Tickling Co-Worker Problem!: This is going to sound like a ridiculous problem. I work part time at my mom's office, and one of my co-workers repeatedly tickles me. If I happen to be standing while sorting out documents or something, she will sneak up behind me and either poke or tickle my sides. It irritates the hell out of me as I am an extremely ticklish person. I usually burst into giggles and she seems to find this amusing. I have asked her to stop, politely and firmly, then angrily. She thinks the whole thing is a joke and doesn't take me seriously. I am the youngest employee here, and she does this only to me, maybe because she thinks it's a cute way of relating to the little girl who works at the office. I have to restrain myself from punching her in the face because it's been going on for several weeks. I can't exactly avoid her in a small office, either. When I told Mom how annoying this co-worker was, she didn't really respond, because, "Mom, Sally at work keeps tickling me" doesn't sound like a big problem. I'm thinking of quitting my job because this is so annoying and I HATE, HATE, HATE being tickled. Can you offer any advice on how to get her to stop?
A: This is not a little problem, this is abuse. I'm startled your mother wouldn't pull this co-worker aside and tell her to keep her mitts off her daughter. The next time Funny Fingers approaches you, say in a voice loud enough for those around you to hear, "Shirley, don't ever touch me again." If she lays a hand on you, you of course must do what you can to get away from her. You don't want to punch her in the face, but you are certainly free to elbow her away (yes, I expect to hear from the lawyers now) or stomp on her foot to protect yourself. If this doesn't stop the attacks, go to the boss. And if you have to, yes, find a job elsewhere.
Q. Skanky D-I-L: My daughter-in-law is young and beautiful. She often comes around wearing very provocative and revealing clothing. We have two teenage sons and also a 7-year-old boy. Because of the clothing she wears, she accidentally exposes herself not too infrequently. My oldest son, her husband, makes jokes out of this, but I find it distasteful that she dresses so inappropriately in front of her in-laws. I've often tried to start a discussion with her but I've bit my tongue out of fear that maybe I'm out of line and uncertainty as to how to approach her. Any advice over this?
A: It's hard to imagine how much more provocative and revealing some clothing can get without swimwear showing up at school or the office, but be assured your daughter-in-law is not the only one letting it all hang out. It's bothering you, and it may be inappropriate, but I'm fairly confident your boys find her outfits just fine (which may be part of what's bothering you). Your best solution is just to avert your eyes. But if there's nowhere else to look, you could pull your son aside and ask him to ask his wife to dress more conservatively when visiting the in-laws.
Q. Adopted Daughter Seeking Biological Parents: I have an adopted daughter who is now 22. She has never shown much interest in finding her birth parents during her childhood. But now that she's moved out of our home and begun her adult life, she started asking questions about who she is. She told us that she recently started taking steps to find her birth parents. My husband and I were always concerned she showed little interest in her biological background and thought we'd enthusiastically support her quest, if ever she chose to. He has given her 100 percent support. But unexpectedly I am experiencing doubts and anxieties. Even though in my head she is our daughter and no biological bond can break our family ties, I feel betrayed and hurt that she wants to find her "real" mother. I know these feelings are wrong, and I should look out for my daughter's best interests. But inside I feel like asking her to stop looking. I feel ashamed to tell my husband about how I really feel. Is it normal to feel this way? Do I tell my daughter how I feel or keep quiet?
A: Of course it's normal. Even the most supportive adoptive parent is going to have anxiety and fear about another set of parents appearing in her daughter's life. Since your daughter is an adult, you want to be able to have an emotionally sophisticated conversation with her about this. She probably has many worries and qualms herself, so the two of you should be able to be open with each other about what's ahead. You should be able to say something like, "You know my support for your search is unwavering, but this is harder than I thought it would be." What you don't want to do is turn her search into your emotional journey, however.
It would surely help all of you if you contacted a support group of adoptees and their parents before you start this. You might even want a social worker who specialized in adoption to help you sort through the emotions all of you must be feeling. Doing some preparation will help you navigate what's ahead.