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Annie's Mailbox

Ask Amy column

Q. An acquaintance and “Facebook friend” has recently returned to her hometown to care for her mother in what is assumed will be her final illness.

She has asked for the online love and support of her friends, which we are most willing to give. However, I am horrified that this friend shares the most personal details of her mother’s ordeal, including her incontinence and paranoid hallucinations, in regular posts.

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Exposing an ill and defenseless woman to hundreds of strangers seems a deeply disrespectful act by an otherwise loving and self-sacrificing daughter.

I’m so upset I have considered drawing up papers stating that if I ever need this type of care, and family members aren’t willing to respect my dignity and privacy, that I be cared for by professionals who are bound by patient confidentiality. What are your views?

A. I share your mortification. Having experienced the joys and stresses of caretaking, I attest that the caretaker doesn’t just see to someone’s medical needs; protecting the loved one’s privacy and dignity is also important.

The thing is that when you are taking care of someone in extremis, that person’s symptoms become your news feed. And just as some new parents overshare, it seems that illness and caring for someone at the end of life can lead to similar impulses.

Your friend might not realize that every post she writes is seen not only by her Facebook friends but potentially by a large number of other people who occupy her friends’ Facebook circles. Or this is simply the only way she has to relieve her own stress.

You might ask your friend if she wants help to adjust her privacy settings to limit the people who can see and share this deeply personal information.

I agree you should use this as an opportunity to explore this issue with your own family.

Q. We recently invited some old friends to our home for dinner. We have known this couple for 35 years but have not seen them for a while. They were in town for a few days, so we invited them over.

I worked quite hard to prepare a lovely dinner and pride myself in my culinary skills. When they arrived, they came empty-handed. I initially did not give it a second thought, but later I wondered why they did not even bring a bottle of wine.

My husband and I were taught to always bring a token of appreciation to our host. Have times changed? Should I adjust my thinking?

A. It might help for you to remember why you hosted this dinner. Surely your motive was to extend your own hospitality and generosity. I know of no requirement to bring a gift to a meal. It is definitely a polite and gracious gesture, but it is not necessarily rude to come empty-handed.

Focus on the success of the meal and generosity of your own gesture, and cut your friends some slack.

Q. “Anguished Mother” wrote about her daughter-in-law’s efforts to isolate her husband from his family. This mom said the daughter-in-law kept a “grievance journal” outlining what she perceived were the parents’ slights over the years.

I take issue with your conclusion that the husband is an abused spouse. I wonder what part the parents played in this estrangement.

A. As I noted in my answer, the “grievance journal” sent a shiver up my spine. I took that as evidence that this wife was particularly vindictive.

Send questions via e-mail to askamy@tribune.com or by mail to Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611.

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