Ask Amy: Advice for the Real World

DEAR AMY: I have become friends with the woman who held my job before me.

We email every few weeks, trade books and have lunch quarterly and on our birthdays.

She is 75. I am 38. Recently, her health has been in great decline. She is battling breast cancer and I believe she has dementia.

She forgets to eat, which has led to her passing out in public places and being hospitalized for malnutrition and dehydration.

Her emails and her conversation have become shockingly repetitive; she asks me the same question immediately after I have answered it and then asks it again as many as a dozen more times during one lunch. She is looking frail and more unkempt each time I see her.

She never married and has no children. Her closest relative is a younger brother who lives in another state.

I know he is aware of her decline and has been trying to convince her to move into a retirement community, but she doesn’t want to go into one because she sees it as “a last step before death.”

I desperately want to help my friend, as do a few other colleagues from her time in my office. We have suggested she hire some in-home help while she considers a retirement home.

We have offered to clean, to buy groceries, to care for her cat while she was in the hospital, to help her move, but she insists she is fine.

Would it be out of line for me to call her brother and ask him if there is a way I can help?

My family keeps telling me she isn’t my business. Should I just keep offering to help her when I see her? It just doesn’t seem like enough.

— Worried Friend

Dear Worried: You could start by talking to your friend and being honest about your concerns. Don’t pressure her. You could do some research through your local office on aging and present her with some options for services that could help her stay safely in her home.

Try to visit frequently. Do things together. Continue to be her friend, understanding that you might not be materially helpful to her (if she won’t let you). It can be frustrating and heartbreaking to witness someone’s decline, but please don’t let your anxiety keep you away from her.

And yes, if you become truly alarmed, you should contact her brother. Don’t attach too strongly to any choices he might make (he might be as powerless as you are), but as her next of kin, he should be made aware of what is going on.

DEAR AMY: My mother has a history of oversharing with me (for instance, she has revealed affairs she’s had).

I don’t like it, but in the past I’ve never explicitly told her, “Please, stop.”

The other day she told me she considered giving my older brother up for adoption, because she was several months pregnant and my Dad hadn’t mentioned marriage yet.

I was so shocked by this, I laughed in response. She was understandably upset with the laughter.

I emailed her an apology, but I also told her I didn’t think it was appropriate for her to share that information with me. She emailed back a couple days later saying she didn’t know how to respond to my email.

Am I overreacting to her revelation?

— Tired of the Overshare

Dear Tired: If you have never established boundaries with your mother about the topics you are willing to entertain, then you can expect her to be bewildered now.

Your mother might be simply trying to tell you about her life. She doesn’t seem to be gossiping about other people, but telling you the truth about herself. Yes, there are definitely revelations about a parent’s life that make a child uncomfortable, but you have a responsibility to be honest with how these revelations make you feel and ask her to think about that before she discloses more secrets.

DEAR AMY: I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read that you don’t consider “a punch in the arm” between children as abuse, but possible flirting.

Children should be taught that all punches are unacceptable, no matter where on the body they land.

— Upset Reader

Dear Upset: Many readers objected to my antiquated view of how children relate when they like one another.

As a sometime arm-puncher during my own childhood, I plead guilty to this form of “abuse.” I also agree that it should be discouraged.

Contact Amy Dickinson via email: askamy@tribpub.com Follow her on Twitter @askingamy or like her on Facebook. Amy Dickinson’s memoir, “The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter and the Town that Raised Them” (Hyperion), is available in bookstores.