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Annie's Mailbox

Ask Amy column

Q. I am a cancer survivor. My mother, who is symptomatic for cancer but has yet to have it confirmed (tests are inconclusive), seems certain that she is going to be issued a death sentence.

She has been completely healthy and active up until the past few weeks when symptoms began. While we are all awaiting a diagnosis, which may not be cancer at all, she is “closing up shop.”

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It’s like she wants to die. I understand that we all react to potentially bad news in different ways, but given that I’ve walked my own recent cancer road and believe that attitude is crucial to healing, I have little empathy for her attitude, especially since there’s no cancer diagnosis at this point.

Any suggestion I’ve made has been rebuffed. Any question I’ve asked has been left unanswered. All interactions consist of her saying “woe is me.” I want to be supportive but am finding it really difficult to be empathetic right now, given her fatalistic attitude. Should I be honest and tell her this?

A. Surely it has occurred to you that your mother might actually be ill, and that her illness could be causing some changes in her attitude and behavior.

Your own successful battle against cancer, and your contact with others when you were ill, should have given you insight enough to know that no two people face illness (or the prospect of it) in quite the same way. Try to be patient while she goes through a strange and challenging time. Don’t offer lots of suggestions (unless she asks), and say, “I’m sorry you are feeling so sad right now. I know it’s a very tough time for you. I want you to know that I’m here for you.”

If she continues to express feelings of hopelessness, do not discount this as an attitude issue. Be supportive and report her symptoms to her doctor. She could be dangerously depressed.

Q. I don’t get along with my wife’s parents. They are controlling and have to have everything their way. A few years ago my wife and I called a family meeting and told her parents that they cannot control our family. They quickly packed their bags and left our house angry.

We are now getting ready to celebrate our oldest child’s high school graduation. My wife’s parents are invited to attend this celebration. Do you have any tips on how to act or make this uncomfortable situation go smoothly?

A. I give you credit for establishing that your in-laws would not be permitted to control your family and for inviting them to share an important landmark event with the rest of the family.

Here’s what you do: hope for the best but prepare for less.

And here’s how you act: with kindness and cordiality.

Q. “Devastated” reported that he was profoundly affected by the shootings at Sandy Hook school. He echoed the thoughts and feelings of millions. Your advice should help many to cope with what few can understand.

As a military veteran of 21 years I have witnessed many disturbing things around the world, but the Sandy Hook event shook me to the core. I cried reading his letter because the feelings I had put away rushed back to the surface, and I realized just how raw the nerves still are.

I hope “Devastated” takes your advice and seeks professional help.

A. Since publishing the letter from “Devastated,” we have a fresh national trauma to add to the others. We all need to be gentle with ourselves and to each other.

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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