Dear Prudence: Elderly grandmother can no longer care for herself, but won’t accept it.

Help! My Grandma Lives Alone in a Huge House She Can't Maintain. Should We Force Her to Move?

Help! My Grandma Lives Alone in a Huge House She Can't Maintain. Should We Force Her to Move?

Advice on manners and morals.
June 24 2013 2:47 PM

This Old House

In a live chat, Prudie offers advice about an elderly grandma who can no longer maintain her giant, run-down home—but refuses to move.

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Q. Wedding Craziness!: My fiancé and I are going to be married in March. A lot of my family has to travel to our wedding, so I've let them know already if they are invited and given formal invitations. My aunt (my mother's sister) and uncle had a very long and painful divorce. He was an alcoholic and would abuse her in front of me and my cousins as kids. It has been about seven years, and I have no desire to have a relationship with my ex-uncle. However, he found out about my wedding and has been pestering me and my other family members as to why he is not invited. He claims he is a changed man and I am cruel for not giving him another chance. I always have vivid and terrible memories of him. Should I give him a chance? On a side note, all of his children are invited since we are all still very close, and my aunt says it's my choice (although she seemed extremely uncomfortable).

A: A long-divorced uncle with whom you have no relationship and of whom you only have bad memories has really not changed if he is pestering you for an invitation to a wedding that's nine months away. If he were a jackass who was still married to your aunt, it's only under the most extreme circumstances that you wouldn't invite him. But once someone is divorced from your relative, that person no longer gets an automatic place on the invitation list. Just ask Sarah Ferguson, who had to watch the last royal wedding on the telly while her ex and her daughters attended. Tell your ex-uncle that you're happy his life is better but the guest list is closed, then close off any further conversation.

Q. Former Smoker's Husband: My wife, "Sue," was a heavy smoker for years but managed to quit before we moved to this area nearly 20 years ago. Sadly, she still died of lung cancer earlier this year at age 52. I think anyone who watches someone die of lung cancer would quit smoking on the spot, but I digress. Sue never wanted anyone to know her "dirty little secret," though I think the fact she was able to quit was a major accomplishment. While I promised to keep her secret, I now hear smokers say, "After all, Sue died of lung cancer, and she never smoked." I'd like to tell them the truth: "Actually she was a heavy smoker for many years," as a cautionary tale. On the other hand, I realize some people who never smoked still develop lung cancer. Your thoughts would be appreciated.


A: I know your wife wanted to keep the fact that she was a former smoker a secret, and like you, I don't understand why. But surely she wouldn't want her death to be used as an example by smokers that lung cancer is a random event and her death had nothing to do with their habit. I don't think it's dishonoring your late wife's memory to tell these people that, unfortunately, your wife's death was cigarette-related. I think it's fair to say you were really proud that she quit a heavy habit years ago, but unfortunately, the damage had already been done.

Q. Gay Father and Unsuspecting Daughters: My wife and I separated last year on amicable terms, at her request, after I confided in her that I am gay. I insisted that I am in love with her and wanted to stay with her as well as with our two preteen daughters, but she made it clear that she would not stay with a gay man. My question is: How and when should I tell my daughters that I am a gay man? They deserve to hear the truth from me and not from someone else, but my wife insists that she doesn't want them to ever find out, since it would be too painful for them, since it has been too painful for her. Please help.

A: It surely is going to be less painful for your daughters to find out the real reason their parents marriage ended than to wonder forever what happened and know there is some big secret that's being withheld. Ending a seemingly happy marriage is painful, and finding out your partner has a different sexual orientation from what you thought is wrenching. I hope your wife finds her way to the Straight Spouse Network; she needs to hash out what has happened to her with others who have been there. But she simply cannot demand that you keep your sexuality a secret. Even though you are headed toward divorce, seeing a counselor to help you two get on the same page as far as your children are concerned will be a big help for all of you over the years.

Q. Surprise Visit From Mom: My mother, who I love but am not particularly close to, recently expressed her disappointment when I told her how busy I'll be in the next few months because she had planned on surprising me with a visit. We live flying-distance away, and frankly someone showing up unannounced sounds like a nightmare to me. I volunteer a lot on the weekends and plan dinners and other activities, so just showing up would force me to cancel these plans last minute. I've tried to gently tell her that I would love for her and my stepdad to plan a visit and that just calling me from the airport isn't OK. My aunt recently surprised my married/pregnant cousin with a visit (coordinated with her husband), and I think this is what's bringing this on. I'm not sure that she's taking the hint.

A: I don't understand whose feelings are being spared when family members ineffectually hint to one another about things they want or things that are bothering them. Just spit it out: "Mom, I know Aunt June had a fun surprise visit to Courtney, but I hate surprises. If you call me from the airport one day, that's just going to be a lot of stress on both of us. Either I have to cancel my weekend plans, or I keep them—then I can't see you. Let's get out our calendars and make a date that's good for a visit for all of us."

Q. Competitive Grieving: My cousin is angry at my family for mourning the loss of my mom, if you can believe that. My mom was 75 years old when she died, and my cousin told me that it's ridiculous that anyone's sad at her passing: "It's not like she was 30 years old with three young kids." I responded by saying, "Are you serious?" and almost decked her. (I wish I would have, but my kids were with me.) I don't know why she made the comments; she barely knew my mom. To top it off, she's contesting the will by claiming that she and my mom were extremely close. She feels she's entitled to most of what my mom is leaving, which is not a small amount. She never visited my mom when she was sick, and the only time they were in contact was during family events (wedding, funerals, etc.). She's already told her friends (some of them are mutual) that she's expecting to retire soon (she's only 45) because of a huge inheritance. How do I deal with this person?

A: Restraining order? Your cousin sounds disturbed, and not interacting with her at all is the best way to go. Be grateful you didn't deck her; the last thing you need is to have an assault charge against you regarding this woman. You should definitely warn the people handling your mother's estate that this loose cannon is rolling around and may make some unsupported claims about an inheritance, just so they are ready to deal with this idiot.

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Emily Yoffe is a contributing editor at the Atlantic.