Dear Carolyn: I have a parent in an assisted-living facility with an illness that will cause death soon, regardless of covid-19. This is and has been incredibly difficult on my other parent.

My job involves strategic public health planning and policy, and we are all-hands-on-deck to solve problems when they come up. Happy to serve, but my days can be very bleak, looking at what we are planning for. I know we are worst-case-scenario planners, but still.

My healthy parent has tearful conversations with me about the parent in assisted living dying during this pandemic, our not being able to say goodbye, and having a funeral ceremony rushed. I totally understand, and I feel the same things.

But I think this parent wants me to tell them it will be okay, and I just can't. I can't do it. I can't lie to them or tell them everything will probably be okay because I am looking at literal data that says otherwise.

I don't know what I'm asking, but I think the parent reaching out to me for support is disappointed in my responses. What do other people do in similar situations, if they know one reality but someone clearly wants reassurance that a fantasy will happen?

— I Can't Be All Kitties and Rainbows

I Can’t Be All Kitties and Rainbows: I’m sorry you have bad news from so many sources right now.

I’m also sorry in advance that this answer is going to start out really dark.

We are all looking at “literal data” that says otherwise when we tell ourselves everything is going to be okay. Right? Since it’s all going to end for every single one of us? And it’s just a matter of when and how?

That we come up with “okay” as an outcome in any situation is, therefore, a matter of degrees, increments, immediacy and no small amount of spin. By this I mean, we always define “okay” based on what’s available to us, and not on the kind of fantasy happy ending you’re talking about. Always.

So your job, as the person being asked for reassuring words, is to do what humans are always called upon to do: to define some available version of “okay,” to help your parent feel better.

But not before you recognize and acknowledge the full scope of the pain. “I understand and I’m devastated, too. This is so terrible. I’m sorry I can’t make it better.”

Then, if your parent seeks reassurance, promise what you can still promise: that you and your healthy parent will get through this together, emotionally if not physically; that you all love each other and always will; that a time will come when you can hold a proper ceremony, and hug each other.

So “it” won’t all be okay, but in time you as people and as a family will be okay, as you grieve and as time allows you to remember this parent less with the pain of these circumstances, and more with memories, happiness, love.

Dear Carolyn: As someone who was planning to have a baby in a year or so, I am experiencing real alarm at what friends with kids are saying about life in the covid-19 era. For me, it has been slightly boring at home instead of out being social, but otherwise I don't have that many complaints. I'm finally working my way through some books and movies I had had on my list for years.

But my parent friends seem really miserable. My friend "Jane" has a 10-month-old baby and said that now without even a Saturday farmers market for her to look forward to, she actually finds the weekend even more depressing than a Monday. It's just an uninterrupted stretch of cleaning up messes. I keep thinking, "I'm glad that's not me," and then realizing I was planning for that to BE me, pretty darn soon. Does this mean I need to rethink my plans?

— That's (Not) Me

That’s (Not) Me: You can wake up with a miserable cold, call in sick and roll back over thinking, “Ugh, imagine if I had to get up for a baby,” or even a dog that needs walking — or, riffing, “I am so glad I can call in sick and I’m not ‘essential’/at risk of being fired/on a camping trip.”

It’s rarely a bad idea to rethink long-term plans when you have new information. That’s just responsible.

But is a life entirely without responsibilities, risks and adventures really what you’re after?

Every path you take is going to have its own bad- and worst-case scenarios.

Maybe your guiding principle is to minimize them, which is valid and your prerogative. In which case, then, yes, kids probably aren’t for you. Generally, though, the trick is to figure out whether the (potential) rewards of something, for you, will be likely to outweigh the demands. Others’ baby love doesn’t count, by the way; only your openness to it does.

So add “long stretches of mess” to your ledger and run your numbers again.

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