Dear Prudence: Some three decades ago, I killed a man. He had broken into my home, armed; we struggled, he died. It was clearly self-defense and, frankly, I have no regrets or remorse. A few months ago, my wife’s brother did an idle Google search and discovered a report on the incident, which he’s shared widely in the family. He’s also taken to calling me “Killer.”
Some friends and relatives have reacted quite negatively, with one breaking all ties, another telling my wife that they’d rather not have me around their children, and a couple seemingly eager to either psychoanalyze me or get the gruesome details.
How do I get people to understand that I am not interested in dredging up the past and that something that happened long ago has very little bearing on who I am today? I’d happily write off the rude and the stupid but these people are important to my wife.
Prudence says: Apparently these friends and family members would prefer that you had been killed by the intruder, so they could then honor your memory as a tragic victim. I understand our country is divided over guns, but surely even the most ardent gun-control activist can recognize that when an armed intruder is in your house, Robert’s Rules of Order do not apply.
Since this nonsense appears to be going on in your wife’s family, I think the first line of defense should be that she step up and defend you. She should say to her brother, and the others who are now giving you the cold shoulder, how disturbed she is at this dredging up of a terrible encounter from years ago and the blatant misunderstanding of what happened. She can briefly explain you encountered an armed man in your own home, defended yourself, and of course no charges were brought. She should say she hopes everyone can be grateful you’re alive and that neither of you want to discuss this incident further. When you encounter the psychoanalytic couple, just say it was a terrifying event you have no desire to relive. If after this the shunning continues, then you’re well rid of these insanely judgmental people.
Dear Prudence: My grandma is in her early 80s and lives alone in a huge, dilapidated house that she grew up in. The home is not safe. It has very steep stairs, rickety railings (she has fallen and broken bones a few times in the past few years) and mold. Yet she refuses to move. The family responds by traveling great distances, several times a week, to help her. This is a huge burden on multiple families. I also worry that she will more seriously injure herself or even die because of this house. Would it be cruel to tell her that some of the assistance won’t happen unless she downsizes to something safer?
Prudence says: Sometimes be very difficult to help a recalcitrant old person and people back away out of misplaced love. Your grandmother clearly is incapable of making good decisions for herself, so her loved ones have to make them for her. This could require getting power of attorney and taking over her living situation.
Perhaps the house needs to be sold to help pay for her to go to a facility where she will be safe and cared for. I know many old people and their loved ones think going to a nursing home is the cruelest kind of abandonment, but a clean, well-run place is so much better than a dangerous, mold-filled wreck. It is a kindness to make sure your grandmother is being well taken care of. And I hope her lesson is learned by the generation behind her as they face their own old age.