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Carolyn Hax: Grandpa was a miser, and Grandma was just miserable

(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My grandfather died and my grandmother was really broken up at first, but something came to light that changed her feelings. After my grandfather retired, he insisted they live really frugally. They ate mainly beans and rice, canned vegetables — so my parents treated them to some meat when they could or a dinner out. Also, the house was always cold in the winter, so my mom made them quilts and bought my grandmom a space heater, which my grandfather let her run a couple of hours a day. They couldn't visit her sisters and brother because it was too expensive, which really bothered my grandmom; she even missed their funerals.

After my grandfather died we found out they were worth over $1 million. My grandmom was so hurt and angry to realize she had been essentially living in poverty, taking from her daughter's family, when they didn't have to. I don't think my grandfather was being mean, just scared of running out of money, but my grandmom now hates the memory of him and says she's glad he died.

This has my mom so torn up. My grandmom is also spending money pretty wildly — her house is like a sauna and she has steak and shrimp all the time and wants to buy me a car.

First, is it okay if I take the car, and second, how can I help her get over being mad so she can mourn my grandfather, who wasn't really a bad guy?

— Grandkid

Grandkid: Wait a minute, no, do not “help her get over being mad.” He took her family from her, prioritizing his fear. That’s flat-out awful, even before the shivering. It is not your responsibility and, more important, not your place to negate her rage. She earned it, he deserves it.

If you want to help her, then try, “Amen, sister, I am so sorry he did that to you. Can I help you cook that shrimp?”

Take the car, too. She wants to use her agency and her money, and better it goes to you than into the atmosphere from her furnace. But: Deposit a car payment’s worth monthly into a separate account. If Grandma rage-spends herself to bankruptcy, pay her back from the account in monthly installments. If her money outlives her, then enjoy your nest egg in her honor.

Also, one of you can help her ensure she has money for life and isn’t at risk of torching it all.

In time, if granted her rage, your grandmother may well burn off the anger and come around to a more nuanced opinion of your grandfather — including sadness for his also depriving himself.

But the key is not trying to tell her how she “should” feel.

Readers’ thoughts:

●Accept the car on one condition — that the two of you do a road trip. Does she want to go back to a school reunion or see the leaves change? That can be your thanks to Grandma.

●In retirement terms, $1 million is about $40,000 a year in sustainable income, before taxes. A certified financial planner can set up a spending plan before she’s broke for real.

●This has to be the most heartbreaking letter I have ever read in your column. That poor woman.