Candle treeDear Readers,

In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? Check this out: My new advice column! I’ll answer questions every week,* so if you’d like to ask a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

 

Dear Maria,
I have Multiple Sclerosis which is an auto-immune disease. One of the big challenges is staying healthy and as germ free as possible without going overboard. Several times I have been out with friends and one of the following happens: someone takes her fork (already used) and, in a flash, reaches over and takes a “taste” of my entre. Or, I mentioned that I’d ordered lemon in my tea, but the waitress evidently forgot. My friend reaches into her glass and before I can stop her, plops her lemon into my tea. I am happy to share a taste of my food and I appreciate the generosity of receiving the lemon, but both of these instances put me at risk for germs. I don’t want to live my life as a complete germa-phobe but I do try to be careful. In both of these examples, the friends know of my circumstances. Am I being too picky? And if not, how should I handle this? I don’t want to remind my friends of the MS every time we share a meal, but obviously it doesn’t seem they remember or realize the consequences for me.

Signed,
Don’t Want to Be a Hermit

Dear Don’t Want to Be a Hermit,

Yikes! I’m not sure which example is more cringe worthy. It’s not right for people to share food without permission, no matter what your physical condition, so I don’t think you’re being too picky. I wonder if your friends may: a) have boundary issues, or b) feel your relationship is so relaxed, they don’t have to honor the boundaries they might have with people they don’t know as well. It sounds like a reminder conversation is in order. It’s not necessary to blame this issue on MS: this is a good practice for everyone to uphold. (Using MS as the reason for the boundary you need will seem as if you’d be okay with their behavior if you didn’t have MS. I don’t think that’s the case!) Next time you meet these friends for a meal, gently tell them that you’re germ-conscious, and to please ask before any food is shared. If they seem confused, give them the specific example you stated in your letter. It’s possible their feelings will be hurt, but better that than contracting a bug it will take you weeks to recover from. And, if they pout about your desire to manage your own food, then that’s their issue. Hopefully, one reminder will set the tone for all meals to come.

Dear Maria,

I read the topics for your past columns and I noticed that there is an element of loss with each topic…aging parents, etc. So, I was wondering if you could write about loss of any kind and the grief process that might accompany those loses.

Signed,
Getting a Grip on Grief

Dear Getting a Grip on Grief,

My heart goes out to you in your loss, whatever it may be. I touched on some aspects of grief in a recent column, and will add to it here. When my father died 20 years ago, I received a card from a dear friend, and the message on the card gave me profound comfort. Grief, the card read, is like a wave. Imagine yourself walking down the beach, when suddenly a wave breaks on the sand. It knocks you over, or makes you stumble. You may have been walking along just fine, thank you very much, before the wave hit you. You’re living your life, holding yourself together, when something reminds you of your loss, and the pain rushes in. The pain of grief is like that wave, and it sneaks up on you when you least expect it. No sense trying to hold the wave back; it’s impossible. Ride the wave as best you can, even if you fear it might overpower you. Given time, the waves will diminish in frequency and strength. But they’ll never go away entirely. So, with each new loss we experience, past grief gets stirred up. Better to “love when you can, cry when you have to,” as Dan Fogelberg sang. Holding it in becomes an internal pressure-cooker. Let off some steam through your tears. Along with the tears can come fatigue, forgetfulness, heighten sensitivity, and more susceptibility to illness. Take good care of yourself with more sleep, good food, and spending time with gentle people. Our culture doesn’t mourn well, so don’t look for permission to take care of yourself. You know what you need, and see to it you get it. Hang in there. It will get easier, I promise.

 

Dear Maria,

How do you repair a relationship with a sibling whom you no longer trust? I love her, but I don’t trust her. Can you truly love someone you don’t trust?

Signed,
Missing My Sister

Dear Missing My Sister,

Sure, you can love someone you don’t trust. That’s the heartbreak of it, because no matter how much you care about the person, their behavior means the relationship will never be what you want it to be. Estrangement from siblings is especially painful. We’d like the people we share blood and DNA with to also be our closest confidants and companions. If you don’t trust your sibling, you’ll always be on guard, and that’s a shaky basis to build a quality relationship upon. Do some soul-searching to determine what level of relationship is acceptable to you, and go for that. If/when you spend time with this sibling, focus on topics and experiences you have in common, and avoid anything that would cause you to feel vulnerable. So much depends on the depth of hurt your sibling has caused, and if it’s a pattern that they don’t seem to be able to change. You may have some grieving to do, over the loss of the relationship you’d like to have with this sibling. Maybe by releasing that hoped-for relationship, you can find your way to an acceptable one. Hopefully, through the process, you both can find a way to be in each other’s lives in a meaningful way.

 

Thanks for your questions, dear hearts. Send me yours!

*Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. Use of this column is not intended to replace or substitute for any professional, financial, medical, legal, or other professional advice. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.