My Aunt “Betty,” with whom I have always been close, is 68 and retired. She is abusing prescription drugs and spends several days a week passed out or confused — sometimes hallucinating. I rarely call her anymore because all she does is mumble and make odd comments. Sometimes she passes out on the phone.
My uncle is in denial. He comes from a generation where family problems are kept within the family. He refuses to seek professional treatment for her or get her into detox. Caring for Aunt Betty is affecting his health, but he refuses to budge.
Please don’t tell me to notify her doctor — I already tried. Aunt Betty is an accomplished manipulator and doctor shops until she finds new doctors who load her up when the old ones won’t cooperate. She does have genuine health issues that require meds, but her doctors have said she would never be stoned if she used them properly.
Confronting my aunt when she’s coherent only makes her angry. Help! — DESPERATE NIECE IN FLORIDA
DEAR DESPERATE: Start calling your aunt more often, because addiction is an illness and denial is one of the symptoms. Older people do react differently to medications than younger ones do, and a dose that might be tolerated when someone is middle-aged can be too great for a senior.
Because your uncle isn’t able to insist that your aunt get professional help, allow me to offer a suggestion. The next time she passes out during one of your phone conversations, do what you’d normally do if someone else lost consciousness while talking to you. Call 911. When she winds up in the emergency room, her doctor will be alerted about the overdose. It would be a first step in seeing her get the help she needs.
P.S. There’s a common misconception among older people that because a drug is “prescription” it’s somehow not addictive. Your aunt isn’t the first to fall into this trap.
DEAR ABBY: Our wedding plans have taken a sudden turn. My fiancee, “Carolyn,” has a wealthy father with a reputation for being an extreme tightwad. Carolyn was profoundly touched when he offered to pay for most of the wedding expenses.
Last night, Carolyn’s mother confessed to us that Carolyn’s father is not paying for the wedding. He is deducting the expenses from Carolyn’s inheritance from her grandmother. (The father is executor of her grandmother’s estate.) He has no idea that his wife told Carolyn, and we’re sworn to secrecy because she will get into “deep trouble” if he finds out she told.
Even worse, he has the gall to make demands about the wedding as if he was paying for it himself.
Carolyn is so deeply hurt by this deception that she doesn’t even want her parents to attend the wedding. All of the joy has gone out of the wedding for us. Abby, how do you think we should handle this? — FLUMMOXED FIANCE IN NEW YORK
DEAR FLUMMOXED FIANCE: I think you should elope.
DEAR ABBY: I am a 42-year-old woman who’ll soon celebrate my 20th wedding anniversary. I am very unhappily married.
I married “Bill” for all the wrong reasons. I never truly loved him the way a woman should love a man. I have remained in the marriage because I am “supposed to.” I was brought up to obey the Commandments and do what is right.
Bill is a wonderful husband and father. He has a steady job that pays well; I work part-time. Bill and I get along just fine. He is easy to talk to, and we’re very good friends. I don’t want to lose that. But there is absolutely no passion in our relationship and never was.
I married Bill because it “was time.” He feels more like a brother than a husband. I don’t want to hurt my children, but I can’t pretend any longer. I am attracted to other men. I’m afraid I’m going to start hating him because I feel so trapped.
I don’t know what to do. I just want to stop pretending. We have both spoken to professionals and I have talked to my priest. I told Bill a little about how I feel — that I don’t love him the way a woman should love a man. He just keeps on trying — buying me flowers, doing all the right things. It doesn’t matter. It just makes me angry. Could you please offer me some suggestions? I have read your column since I was a teen, and I value your opinion. Thanks. — HAD IT IN HARTFORD, CONN.
DEAR HAD IT: Let me get this straight — you married your husband under false pretenses and have lied to him for 20 years. Both of you have my sympathy.
The best advice I can offer is to think long and hard about what you have now and what you “might” have in the future. Believe me, there are NO GUARANTEES and expectations have changed a lot since you were in the dating and mating market. If you really cannot love your husband the way he should to be loved — and counseling won’t help — then let him go. He deserves better.
DEAR ABBY: My mother died recently after suffering a stroke. Immediately following her death, one of my father’s more painful tasks was notifying various agencies: Social Security, retirement benefits and so on. Dad shook his head in amazement as all but one of the people he notified simply fired off a series of questions, thanked him curtly and hung up. Only one civil servant proved to be truly civil, prefacing the conversation with, “I’m sorry for your loss.”
Abby, I know people who work in government and private pension departments receive many calls about deaths every day. That doesn’t make each death less sad, or each call less difficult for the person picking up the phone and dialing. We can connect on a human level even through layers of officialdom and technology. A few simple, sympathetic words can make a world of difference in the dark days following the loss of a loved one. — NANCY IN OAKLAND, CALIF.
DEAR NANCY: Perhaps it’s a self-protective mechanism when people who work with case numbers, files and statistics lose sight of the fact that behind that information are broken hearts and grieving families. Thank you for the reminder. I’m sure no one meant to be cruel. What you have described is an example of people who have become desensitized.
Dear Abby is written by Jeanne Phillips. The column was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.