While I’m away, readers give the advice.
On making the best of the time after a terminal diagnosis:
My sister’s diagnosis gave her six months to a year, with treatment. She lived 1,200 miles from me, but I decided to give her whatever I could, to make her comfortable and happy. I took unpaid leave to spend a couple weeks at her home. I made her a window-seat cushion that she hadn’t gotten around to making. My husband and I painted her kitchen and hung the five-year-old wallpaper border she had been waiting for her husband to do. I used vacation time to visit again and take her to a Cirque du Soleil performance. She had always wanted to see a Broadway show. My brothers, mother and friends arranged for a flight to NYC, tickets and a hotel. I included her daughter, my daughter and our mother. We had a Mothers/Daughters weekend that brought so much joy to her life.
I miss our daily conversations, her laughter and everything about her. I still cry and feel her loss. But every moment we had together during those last months helps to soften the pain. My sister knew I loved her, and I enjoyed every second of life we shared.
On not being part of a mother-in-law cliche:
On my husband’s birthday, I send my mother-in-law flowers. It went a long way in smoothing the way.
My mother-in-law was incredibly critical and opinionated. She criticized the way I dressed, the way I raised my children, the way I kept — or, more truthfully, didn’t keep — my house.
But one of my life slogans is “Give them the benefit of the doubt.” So I tried to discover what made her critical and opinionated. I discovered the only way she knew to express her love was to help her loved ones be the best (in her opinion) they could be. I discovered she rearranged my kitchen to be helpful, not critical. I realized she expressed her love only in deeds, because she’d never been taught the words. And . . . I cultivated a deep appreciation, knowing a great deal of my happiness in my marriage was because of the things she had taught her son. I know I fell far below her ideal for a daughter-in-law, but, nevertheless, we loved each other very much.
On an ailing loved one’s refusal
to seek medical care:
Tell them you have accepted their decision not to see a doctor and will not raise the issue again, but there are two more things you need to tell them. 1. You love them and always will, and 2. There may come a time when they will feel something and that something will concern them. They may think, “This could be something serious — maybe I should check with a doctor.” And then they may think, “No, I can’t do this, not after telling everyone I won’t see a doctor.”
At this point, they need to know that they can call you, that you will never say, “I told you so,” that you will take them to a good, dependable doctor who will also not say, “You should have called me earlier,” that together you and they will face whatever the future holds.