Dear Prudence answers readers' questions live at Washingtonpost.com.

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
Aug. 10 2009 2:59 PM

Should My Son Meet His Mentally Ill Uncle?

Prudie counsels a woman torn over a family reunion—and other advice seekers.

(Continued from Page 1)

Emily Yoffe: I can understand now that her children are grown and she is alone with this abuser, your mother realizes this is not how she wants to spend the rest of her life. However, a marriage is a partnership, and while she was raising her children, she allowed them to absorb your father's wrath, so she has her own responsibility and even guilt about this. Coming from this kind of childhood, you are right when you describe one of your tasks of adulthood as "hanging on to your sanity." So don't let go!

Letting your mother move in would only plunge you back to the maelstrom you have left behind. One of the ways you can support your mother is to draw the kind of boundaries for her about what you will be subjected to emotionally that she unfortunately never drew for you. Tell her unless she finds a counselor to discuss her issues with, you are going to have to limit your conversations because you can't stand to hear about dad. Tell her you will be happy to help her look for a place, but it can't be with you. You need to balance being a caring child with being eaten up by the emotional demands of two inadequate, needy parents.

_______________________

Soap Opera City: A few years ago, I loved and lost. The Guy (TG) and I remained terrific friends. There was a time when I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. It was tough to keep that to myself after he became involved with someone else, but I knew the intensity of feeling would change with time. It did, and I'm so glad we were able to remain close.

I've run into health challenges, pretty serious ones. TG has been one of my unfailing friends through these dark times. Recently I learned that TG talked with his wife about inviting me to stay with them while I'm going through a series of surgeries and treatments. It's generated tension in their marriage, not only because of jealousy (I don't mean that as a flippant diagnosis; she's understandably freaked out, I think) but because he won't end our friendship.

In this situation, would you step out of the friendship and let him sort out his feelings?

Gawd, this sounds melodramatic, but it's fairly likely I won't be around for more than a couple of years. NOT that I've talked about that with anyone but docs and lawyers. I think his decisions about his marriage should be based on the two of them and not this other thing going on with this other person. Other woman. It could totally mess up their lives.

On the other hand ... well ... I love him. (Duh.) I think that means I should step back and deal with my own crap and let him deal with his. Right?

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Emily Yoffe: I'm sorry you are having to face this and I hope your treatments are successful. But you also seem to instinctively understand that even though you want love in your life, and his love, your moving in with them would not give you the comforting, supportive situation you need so that you can recover, but would leave you in the midst of simmering resentments if not outright hostility. I am strongly in favor of people being able to maintain friendships with previous lovers, and dislike when a new spouse tries to quash these. But there is a long way between him being a supportive friend to you (which his wife should graciously allow) and having you move in, especially since there are still raw and unresolved feelings. Have dinner with both of them and say that while you are so grateful for their support, and will appreciate it as you face the future, you will be much more comfortable recovering in your own, private space.

_______________________

Crazy Uncle's Younger Sister: I haven't seen my brother in over 24 years for various reasons. He lives on the other side of the country. The last time I saw him he physically attacked me and when I was a child he made sexual advances toward me. He's not in a hospital of any sort. He functions well enough to hold down a job and live on his own. My son happens to be traveling on business to the town where my brother lives, so he's planning to visit. I won't be there, but my mother will be. I honestly have no desire to ever see my brother again. My son doesn't know all the history.

Emily Yoffe: Thanks for the clarification about why your son does not know your brother. That explains a lot, and I don't blame you for not having contact with him. However, I reiterate that your son is a grown man and there's no reason for him not to have the truth about why he has an uncle he's never seen. Your not telling leaves a veil of shame and mystery over what is a sad situation that deserves to be discussed. Once your son knows, he can then decide if he wants to make contact—I am concerned that your brother could be set off by a visit from your son—and he will also be prepared for what possibly to expect.

_______________________

For Coffeenation: Or have a conversation about the senior co-worker taking it up with management rather than berating everyone who wants a cup of coffee.

Emily Yoffe: Good suggestion.

_______________________

Chillicothe, Ohio: We recently had a yard sale at a friend's home and a neighbor purchased a working appliance from us. The neighbor has since approached my friend because she is having difficulty with the appliance. This woman is insisting that we either come to her home and assist her or refund her money. Any advice on how to handle this woman? I have no desire to be her tech support or refund her money.

Emily Yoffe: She's insisting, huh? What's she going to do, refuse to patronize your business in the future? Write letters to the board of directors? Report you to the FTC? You don't get a warranty when you buy something at a yard sale because all your expectations are covered by the phrase "caveat emptor." You and your friend should tell her the appliance is now hers to do with as she pleases.

_______________________

For Person With Health Challenges: Are you considering confiding in the people closest to you that the prognosis might not be good? This must be a hugely difficult time for you and when/how to tell people must be extremely difficult. But I would like to add this to the mix—I would want to know if someone close to me was in this situation now and not later down the line. Although I would follow the person's lead, from my perspective it's important information for me to absorb.

You must do what's right for you, of course, but I'm betting that if you're of two minds about telling this person you love the severity of your condition—he would want to know.

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