Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Have unimpassioned person give updates on patients' status
Competing Needs: Both my father and my husband's father have terminal cancer. We have a toddler and we both have jobs. Both parents live a long flight from us. We are trying to split time with both families equally.
The problem is my mother-in-law is so lost in her own pain that she can't appreciate the balance we are trying to strike. This week she played the "he is dying immediately" card, and my husband rushed across the country only to learn that she needed help with chores and thought he should visit. As a result, I had to stay with the toddler and forgo a visit to my dad.
How do we work this out? This is the second time in three months she has cried "wolf," but I don't want my husband to be unable to say goodbye. Plus, I'm getting pretty resentful of the selfishness.
Carolyn: Ugh. I'm sorry.
What you need are objective and informed sets of eyes in each location, to feed you information on each father's condition. Clearly the more pressing need is for someone to fill that role in your husband's family, but that kind of reconnaissance would be useful in your family, too, no matter how clear-eyed your mom might be.
Often this role can be filled by a relative or friend who lives nearby, and who is either not so close to the patient as to be emotionally knotted by the situation, or who is particularly levelheaded.
If you don't know someone like that, then check with the people in charge of the fathers' care. Explain your situation, and that you need an advocate. Try to find an attentive nurse, social worker or other caregiver — someone who is involved day-to-day — who is willing to keep you apprised, and get permission from the patient to communicate with them. If you hit a wall there, call the Cancer Care Inc., toll-free 1-800-813-HOPE (4673).
Sister went too far in defending her lifestyle decision
Washington: My husband and I split because he wanted to have children and I didn't. My family supported me but did not understand my position, so for several months I was defensive and unpleasant with them, and made a lot of nasty, unnecessary comments about the "breeding mentality" (basically rationalizing my not wanting babies).
I then found out my younger sister is pregnant and has very hurt feelings about this. She is due to deliver in the summer and we have spoken very little since my divorce two months ago. I desperately want to broker peace and be part of the new baby's life, but I don't know what to say that won't sound hypocritical.
Carolyn: You explain that you were nasty and defensive, and in being so you committed the very sin that you found so objectionable in others: You judged everyone's worldview through the prism of your own.
Then you point out that being an emotional wreck (as you surely were) may explain this kind of lashing out, but it's not an excuse.
You avoid being hypocritical by stating what has been true all along, despite your fulminations to the contrary: To each one's own. You get that now.
And, you say you're really happy for her, and are excited to meet your new niece/nephew.