Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Grandfather's Death Causes Role Reversal

DEAR HARRIETTE: My grandfather had been really sick for quite some time, and after a recent infection, we knew he was approaching the end. He passed away the night before Mother's Day. I know that it was his time and that he lived a long and fulfilled life, but my mother is taking the death really hard. It troubles me to see her so upset. I expect that she will grow stronger with time, but she is in pieces now. I have been awkward in trying to comfort her because it is a large role reversal. How can I be gentle and sensitive in comforting my mom? -- Out of Sorts, Grand Rapids, Mich.

DEAR OUT OF SORTS: To lose a parent is difficult, even if the parent is old. It may take your mother some time to regain her composure. What you can do is be a great listener. Ask her to tell you stories about her father from when she was young. Share with her some fond memories that you have of interacting with your grandfather. Talk about the joyous experiences that your mother and you both recall. This should bring some joy to your mother as she shifts her thoughts from his passing to great moments in his life.

Yes, it can be very difficult when you find your roles reversing with your mother. This is a natural part of life. Her relationship with her father must have changed as he aged as well. Be as fully present as possible. Do not feel that you have to solve anything for your mother, though. Just be there to love and support her. Ask her if there is anything in particular that you can do to be of help. You may want to look for a bereavement group in your neighborhood that you both can attend.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My birthday just passed, and with birthdays come gifts. Though I am appreciative of all that my family and friends have gotten and done for me, there are inevitably some things that I have little use for. I don't have the heart to tell certain people that I do not like their gifts, but I feel bad when I end up donating them later. Is honesty a better policy? My mom, for example, is really sensitive and would take it personally if I said I didn't like what she got me. Should I avoid telling her? -- Gifted, Laredo, Texas

DEAR GIFTED: This is a tricky situation. On the one hand, you do not want to hurt others' feelings. On the other, you do not want to waste their money. I vote for not donating gifts from people whose feelings will be hurt.

Next year, why not make the request that people not give you gifts? If they want to give anything, ask that they make a donation in your name to your favorite charity. You can make a big deal of the idea of giving to those in need in honor of the day of your birth. This is a wonderful way to use loving resources wisely.