While I'm away, readers give the advice.
On dealing with a loved one's nihilist views (and habits):
These people think they'll simply drop dead from their bad habits. While that's one possibility, it's far more likely they'll end up living with significant disabilities. The chronic lung diseases that accompany long-term smoking severely limit activities, including walking from the bathroom to the living room. Liver disease and diabetes can also create major impediments to enjoying the life you have. Dying seems an easy out, compared to living with disabilities that affect every aspect of your life.
My father said the same things — that he was going to die soon, that he wasn't going to live to be very old, how many of his friends were already dead. Then he would keep eating, not listening to his doctor, not taking care of his health needs, etc.
He died at 58. Most of what killed him was preventable. I wish I had been more forceful with him. I wish I had said that he was creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. I wish I had told him how much that hurt me, that he didn't care enough about being around for me and his girlfriend to even try to use his medications properly. I wish I had been more honest about his bull. I don't know what good it would have done in the long term, but I wouldn't be left in this position of wondering whether he would have altered his behavior had I been braver.
As one who is a few months shy of 80 and who lost her father at age 9, I have this recommendation: The next time a loved one refers to his upcoming death, put your arms around him and tell him you love him. And maybe even add, for good measure, that you will miss him.
On making the best of what grandparents have to offer:
My mother-in-law did not hold the baby, make a meal, do the wash. It amazed me that this woman had had many babies of her own — her lack of instinct about what I might need was palpable.
My mother-in-law is also an easy laugher. She is narcissistic, yes, but pleasant as punch. Her relationship with my children grew as they grew. They knew, as children do, exactly what they could count on her for. Maybe she wouldn't have a thoughtful birthday gift, or ask about their achievements or interests — but she would swim and make whirlpools with them, let them row her about in a canoe while she laughed and laughed, share HER interests with them. They love her deeply — just what my husband and I hoped for them.
What's lacking in a grandparent/grandchild relationship is not what defines it. If I or my husband had reacted to the inability to contribute upfront, my children would have lost a great deal.
On dismissing a desire to have both parents present at prenatal checkups:
I am so grateful that my partner came to the important doctor visits of my (sadly unsuccessful) pregnancies. We were together when we lost the heartbeat on the ultrasounds.
Needed a Hand to Hold