Dear Amy:

I just received an e-mail from my 80-year-old mother. The following is part of what she wrote.

"When a member quits the church, the church withdraws from him if he cannot see the light and come back. At this time I have to withdraw from you. I love you very much. Please take this the way it was meant -- to make you realize you are lost and must consider coming back to Christ and His church."

I left the church when I left home at 18; I'm now 58. I guess this means she won't be seeing my 7-month-old granddaughter or my daughter and her husband anymore.

My daughter has never been to church. I saved her from this kind of lunacy.

It also means that my mother's cut herself off from her entire family.

What should I tell my daughter and son-in-law? What should I say to my mother?

Stunned

If your 80-year-old mother is suddenly behaving strangely, then you should investigate the possible causes before writing her off.

If this is the first time your mother has threatened to withdraw from you, then aren't you curious about what might be going on with her?

She may have fallen under the sway of a charismatic preacher; she may be going through a rough time personally, or have the beginnings of dementia.

Before you prepare speeches to other members of your family decrying this "lunacy," you should do your best to get to the bottom of what might be behind your mother's pronouncement.

You should make a special effort to see your mother in person to find out what is going on. You can start your conversation by saying, "Mom, I'm worried about you; the e-mail you sent to me doesn't even sound like you. What's going on?" You could check in with her friends and physicians to see if there are any recent changes in her health and look into her finances to make sure that her church contributions are in the normal range.

If you are confident that your mother is of sound mind and that she really does want to cut herself off from you because of this, then you have to accept it.

Because of her age, however, I hope that you will do your best to try to keep in touch with her, even if it's difficult for you.

Dear Amy:

I am one of those people who gets very depressed this time of year because of my financial situation. We live check to check and barely get by. The reason I'm writing is because lately when I go to the supermarket, they have people outside the doors collecting food or money, etc.

I am not the type of person to be rude, but if I tell them "I'm sorry, but I'm broke," they tell me they take credit cards (which we don't have).

Today, I donated canned veggies to them because I felt bad. I scrape my pennies, turn in cans and bottles and clip coupons to feed my family.

How do I handle these people without being rude?

Need to Feed the Kids in N.Y.

When passing a person ringing a bell and standing next to a kettle or a collection box, there is really only one thing you need to say. It goes like this: "Merry Christmas!"

Make eye contact and smile. Thank them for donating their time in this way. It is not necessary to turn your pockets inside out in order to prove that you can't donate.

People collecting donations for holidays realize that not every person passing by is able or willing to donate each and every time they walk past. They realize that this is a difficult time of year for many people -- that's why they are choosing to give their time trying to help out.

I'm going to offer up my own antidote to the holiday blues.

Take your own turn at the kettle. Bundle up the kids and take them downtown and let them help you ring the bell and wish people a Merry Christmas. Follow up your outing with a cup of hot chocolate, and I guarantee that you will feel at least a little bit better.

Contact your local branch of the Salvation Army (or your favorite charity) to sign up for volunteering opportunities.

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