Miss Conduct

Advice: Why won’t family members write to mom in the nursing home?

She has dementia and barely remembers anyone, it’s true. But she likes getting letters.

Need advice? Submit questions for Miss Conduct here.

My ninetysomething mother is in a nursing home with dementia. I visit a couple of times a week, which is hard because she doesn’t know who I am. I send cards to family with sentiments I know she would feel — “I’m proud of you,” “Congratulations on your new job” — signed “Grandma’s scribe.” My true purpose is to get them to send her a note or flowers, little niceties that brighten her day even if she only remembers them for five minutes. I’m a little angry that far-away family seem to have forgotten her but I don’t see a point in directly confronting them. What do you think?


J.H. / Marshfield

My heart offers a wordless howl of empathy and a hug across space and time. My head asks, “If you like forging greeting cards, why not forge some to your mother from the out-of-towners and save on postage?”

You say you don’t see the point in confronting your relatives (we’ll get to that verb choice), but you seem to see one in sending them forged cards. What point is that? The cards aren’t getting your desired results, so why do you keep sending them?

It’s not for your mother. If she doesn’t know her son, does she know cousin Amy from Omaha? If a pretty card would delight her more if the name attached were Amy’s, why not tell her it is?

You are angry. You have every right to be. What you are going through is horrible. I’m angry on your behalf, J.H.

But our anger doesn’t mean that anyone is doing anything wrong, even cousin Amy. You can’t have a long-distance relationship with a dementia patient. I know; I tried. If you weren’t close before they developed dementia it’s pointless, and if you were, it will break your heart. Be angry at the disease, at fate, at God. Find a therapist or support group or get a legal pad and write your anger until the world makes a little more sense.


And when you want something, ask. Don’t maneuver, don’t confront. Ask.

New Love Letters podcast: In Season One, Meredith Goldstein explores what happens when love ends in a breakup. Listen to the podcast now, and subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and RadioPublic.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.