Dr. Helen

Senior Life Expert



Ways to cope with widowhood

By Helen Greenblatt, Ph.D.
Copley News Service

Q: I was widowed three years ago and haven't fully recovered from the loss of a wonderful husband. You once published a list of things to do that would help me, but my grief was too recent and I couldn't follow anything anyone suggested. Could you please reprint some of your suggestions? I know they were very practical.

A: Here they are. I'm sure you've been doing some of these things without even noticing it.
    - Telephone people with whom you recently had some contact and ask if there are any interesting things going on that you might join.
    - Call heads of charities to which you and your late husband contributed. You may wish to volunteer.
    - Visit your neighborhood library (or high school) and ask to be trained on their computer equipment. Note: You can get help at your neighborhood senior center. They will refer you to neighborhood computer clubs.
    - Check your finances. If you can afford a vacation, take it now.
    - Think back over the things you have done in the past to help you through trying times. We haven't reached our advanced years without going through some pretty terrible times, so draw on ways you have coped in the past. You helped yourself before, and you can do it again.

Q: My neighbor has been caring for his elderly wife, who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Last month he had her admitted to a board and care facility, and she is responding well to the attention she is receiving. He visits her every day, even though there are times when she doesn't recognize him.
    Lately this man has been dropping in to see me, offering to pick up some groceries from the market, mail a letter and even deliver my clothes to the cleaner. I have been widowed for the past six years, and at first I really enjoyed having someone around. Now I'm not so sure. One of my neighbors who used to be very friendly hardly talks to me anymore. Some of my best friends have stopped their weekly telephone calls. Should I continue this friendship or tell him not to stop by anymore?

A: Of course you should continue to see him. Since you're not doing anything wrong, your friends and neighbors may just be giving you some space so that you can enjoy having this man around. He is not being disloyal to his wife since she is well cared-for. His daily visits to her are as much as he can do under the circumstances.
    Instead of thinking you are seeing too much of him, include him in your social life. Have some friends over and introduce him so that he can widen his circle of support.
    You can also accompany him in visits to his Alzheimer's support groups. His wife is suffering from a dread disease that takes its toll on the caregiver almost as much as on the person who has the illness. He's lucky to have a friend like you to whom he can turn.

      You can write to Dr. Helen at Copley News Service, P.O. Box 120190, San Diego, CA 92112 or e-mail her at [email protected].

(c) Copley News Service



Benefits of marriage outweigh hygiene issues

By Helen Greenblatt, Ph.D.
Copley News Service

Q: I am a widow in my early 70s who has been dating a man in his lat e 60s. We play tennis and golf, and enjoy our families and friends.
    He has a bad habit of neglecting to change his shirt, and I frequently see that old-fashioned ring around the collar. I don't want to hurt his feelings, yet I don't want to do his laundry. We are planning to get married at the end of this year, and I don't want this to become an issue that will spoil our wonderful relationship. Any suggestions?

A: Think back to your previous marriage and make a list of all the accommodations you both made to keep the relationship going. It takes caring and consideration to maintain an intimate partnership, and as we get older we tend to lose our patience too easily.
    You may be going through some anxious moments related to tying the marriage knot. You have been a free agent for some time, and the thought of permanency may be a bit scary. At the same time, realize that you will now have the comfort of having a steady partner with whom you can share your joys and sorrows.
    Once you are married, why not take over doing the laundry? Then you can solve your problem without hurting his feelings. You can remove the soiled shirts and make sure fresh ones are always available in his closet, and he need never be the wiser. If you feel the situation warrants, however, you might benefit from a few premarital counseling sessions. Take heart and know that the best is yet to come.

Q: I lent a very close friend a video of our 50th anniversary because she coordinated the event and I wanted her to see the great job she did. She was widowed two years ago and is having a difficult time living on her own.
    She is not the most organized person, and even though she keeps promising to return the video, two months have passed and I have yet to see it. She seems to have mislaid it in her own house, and since she is active in the community, she has a tendency to let things pile up at home.
    I don't want to lose her as a friend, but this video is precious to me. My husband is annoyed with the whole situation and cannot understand how I could have lent her our only copy. He thinks we should all get together at her house and search around until we find it. Any suggestions?

A: It sounds as if extreme measures are in order, but it would be unfortunate to break up a friendship by invading this woman's privacy. Since you are such close friends, you probably know how much this event meant to her and how much she would treasure a memento of it. It sounds to me as if she is clinging to objects that comfort her, and her disorganized home is just an indication of her loneliness.
    Offer to come and help her find the video. Maybe you could even take lunch and make an event out of it. But if it doesn't turn up, you can always get a copy of it from the person who took the pictures. You probably should have made a copy for her to keep in the first place. You'll have another chance when you celebrate your 60th.

      You can write to Dr. Helen at Copley News Service, P.O. Box 120190, San Diego, CA 92112 or e-mail her at [email protected]

(c) Copley News Service



Grandpa's girlfriend wasn't at fault

By Helen Greenblatt, Ph.D.
Copley News Service

Q: I have been dating a woman for the past two years. We are both in our 70s with grown children and grandchildren. Last week my daughter left her 4-year-old son with us for a few hours, and we took the boy to the mall. That was a mistake. He dragged us into every toy shop and bookstore, wanted to touch everything and started to cry when we said it was time to go home.
    We were both exhausted, and my lady friend gave him a mild whack on the seat of his pants, grabbed his arm and said, "Let's go!" Heads turned as we left the mall and headed for the car.
    I felt somewhat humiliated by the turn of events, but I'm not a good disciplinarian and was grateful for the help. I think the smack was unnecessary. What do you think?

A: I think it was an imposition for your daughter to leave her little one with you unless it was an emergency. Your lady friend took extreme measures to get the child home, and she probably regrets having been put in the position of authoritarian, but she realized that you were unable to handle the situation, so she stepped in.
    Next time you take this little boy to the mall you might have to make a written contract with him to come home when you tell him it is the time to go. We may be the healthiest, wealthiest and best-educated older generation to exist, but our grown children don't realize that we are also grandparents who have some physical disabilities, tire easily and lose our patience when put to the test. Since couples tend to build careers first and marry and have children later these days, some of us may be too old to undertake grandparenting roles to the extent that our children would like.
    Don't let this incident come between you and your lady friend. Take her to the movie "Kolya" to see the love that evolves between an older caretaker and a young child. It's educational and inspirational. You'll enjoy it.

Q: During a recent storm I walked out of the house, slipped on a sheet of slimy mud and twisted my ankle. The X-rays showed no bone fractures, but I wear an ankle brace and have to keep my foot elevated.
    I am in my 80s and my girlfriend is in her 70s. We have been together for the past 12 years, and I do most of the cooking, cleaning, marketing and driving. She is a snazzy dresser, keeps herself neat and trim, and other men seem to admire her. I am a little jealous and from time to time have suggested that we get married.
    She likes our arrangement, and we have been quite content until this current accident put me temporarily out of commission. I am afraid she will leave me because I am now homebound and it will take two to three weeks for everything to heal. What do you think?

A: Don't panic. You have been a wonderful helpmate for 12 years. This is the time to take care of yourself. Hire a cleaning team and look up Meals on Wheels to help you get through this time. Rent some good videos, and ask your girlfriend to find a driver to help bring her to and from the market.
    If you still want to cook, you can peel carrots and shell peas while keeping your foot up in the air. Place your chair near a telephone and make phone calls. You can always use this time to read, take care of paper clutter, write letters and pay bills that may have piled up.
    If your friend stayed with you for 12 years, she must like you as a person, not as a house man. Marriage cannot cement a relationship that is shaky. It takes more than a signed document to keep a couple together. You've done well for 12 years. Just 13 to go and you can celebrate your silver anniversary.

       You can write to Dr. Helen at Copley News Service, P.O. Box 120190, San Diego, CA 92112 or e-mail her at [email protected].

(c) Copley News Service



Don't let beauty creams ruin your marriage

By Helen Greenblatt, Ph.D.
Copley News Service

Q: The lovely woman I had been seeing for four years and I finally decided to tie the knot and had a small wedding for our close friends. We are both in our late 60s. Everything went well, and we are compatible on most things.
    She has only one habit that bothers me, and that is her passion for collecting creams and ointments. They adorn the bathroom sink and shower so that I have to be very careful not to knock anything over when I enter her sanctuary.
    She spends so much time in that room giving herself facials and who knows what else that I have to knock on the door and beg to be allowed to use the facility. We don't like to use the guest bathroom because we like to keep it neat, clean and available for our guests.
    I don't want to create a rift over such a minor problem, but I would like to be able to respond when nature calls. Any suggestions?

A: Your wife must have a beautiful complexion, and facials and beauty treatments are a treat for any woman. Try to keep that in mind when you are annoyed with her for monopolizing the bathroom. A lot of men would happily trade problems with you.
    Have you mentioned your frustration to her? She might be willing to condense and consolidate her cosmetics.
    Another solution is to use the guest bathroom and tidy up when you're finished if that's necessary. Don't forget to put the seat down when you're finished. Happy honeymoon!

Q: We just received a new computer as a celebration of 45 years of marriage. I am in my 70s and have no desire to learn new skills. My husband, on the other hand, has taken to it like a duck to water. He puts all his investments on the computer and even makes trades without leaving the house.
    He used to come home and kiss me hello. Now he goes right to the computer to see if he has any e-mail or he gets on the Internet to find out what's current and chats with his computer cronies. I feel left out, never dreaming that I would have to compete with a computer in my old age.
    There is a PC club that has invited me to join and learn the basics. I am a little self-conscious to expose my ignorance to the community. The club members are very encouraging and so is my husband. One young man who is on the technical staff was successful in teaching my friend and has offered to teach me. Should I take the chance?

A: What do you have to lose? Go for it and join the millions of men and women all over the world who are communicating electronically. Once you learn, you'll be able to communicate with family and friends, shop and keep track of your accounts.
    Don't worry about looking ignorant at the beginning. Everyone who knows the computer now started out in that same position.
    The time spent learning new skills will pay off by keeping you mentally alert as the years pass. Getting older does not mean losing energy, curiosity and creativity. Keeping mentally alert is part of our natural growth process throughout our life span. You are doing what comes naturally - learning.

       You can write to Dr. Helen at Copley News Service, P.O. Box 120190, San Diego, CA 92112 or e-mail her at [email protected].

(c) Copley News Service

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