Ask Amy: A neighbor's visit rattles a relative
DEAR AMY: In this time of social isolation, a neighbor just knocked on my 93-year-old aunt's door and then entered her house. Who does that?
I was talking to her on the phone at the time, from 2,000 miles away, and my aunt put the phone down to go answer the door. I was begging her not to let anyone in. She has been isolated for six weeks at home, and even though her son (my cousin) brings her everything she needs, he does not enter her home because his wife is a healthcare worker.
We all call her and email her daily. We know the isolation is hard on her.
My aunt should NOT have let the woman in, but I could hear the neighbor talking to her. I told her forcefully to ask the woman to leave immediately, but my aunt is not very assertive. I called my cousin and asked him to go over to her house.
I do not care how well-meaning this neighbor was, she put my aunt's life at risk.
This has upset me terribly and I know I will worry for weeks, fearing that my aunt will become sick. Am I overreacting?
Please tell people to use common sense! — WORRIED NIECE
DEAR NIECE: Your elderly aunt has a son who is looking in on her. You did the right thing to call him and let him know that a neighbor had stopped by, and now you have to trust that he will handle the situation with his mom.
In my view, you freaked out too forcefully when you were talking to her on the phone. This neighbor might not be in any risk group, and might have maintained a very healthy distance — not touching the doorknob, nor getting too close to your aunt.
You should continue your daily contact. Do not lecture or scold her from 2,000 miles away. Do not dwell on the dangers of this virus. Keep your contact as pleasant as possible and use this time to connect with her in ways that are positive for both of you.
Your anxiety is not as dangerous as COVID-19, but it does create stress and worry for your elderly aunt, which is not good for her.
DEAR AMY: My cousin has canceled me. I'm in my 50s and she's in her 60s. I've always regarded her as a role model, but she is one of the most cynical people I've ever known. She's smart, had incredible professional success, and hangs out with very accomplished people. I've always felt inadequate around her.
My cousin dropped me because — in brief — she perceived me to be sanctimonious.
In my mind, the only way I can get out of bed in the morning is to do something to help others. If I did nothing to improve this world, I would slit my wrists. I suffer from depression and can't justify my own existence unless I am helping others.
Should I try to explain this to my cousin, or should I just let it go?
Having a relationship with her always required a lot of work on my end as she analyzed everything I ever said — right down to the punctuation.
Having a relationship with her meant a lot to me.
My relationship with her 93-year-old mother has largely been conducted through her. I can't envision visiting her mother, for example, if I'm not also seeing my cousin.
What do I do? — CANCELED COUSIN
DEAR COUSIN: Your most important obligation is to your own mental health and well-being. Your relationship with your cousin is imbalanced. Steering clear of her and focusing on your own personal growth would be best for you. You should also pursue therapy, which is the ideal place to explore relationships, and the feelings they bring up.
You should stay in touch with your aunt, and if visiting her brings you in proximity to your cousin, be cordial — but don't give yourself away.
DEAR AMY: In a recent column, you quoted your hero, Mr. Rogers, who said, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping."
You're one of them. Thank you for what you do. — GRATEFUL
DEAR GRATEFUL: Mr. Rogers was actually quoting his mother, who passed along this wonderful wisdom to him when he was a boy.
Many "helpers" these days take great personal risks — every day when they turn up for work. I cannot be counted among them, but thank you so much for this lovely compliment.
You can email Amy Dickinson at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.