DEAR AMY: I would like advice on how to manage a situation that I frequently encounter with colleagues and strangers.
I am a 47-year-old grandmother. When people hear that I'm a grandmother, they typically comment on how young I look. Many people ask me how old I was when I had my kids. I try to say that I am older than I look, but that doesn't always end this line of questioning.
I don't want to tell people my age or say how old I was when I had children just to satisfy their curiosity.
What can I say to people who are asking such personal questions? -- Young Gran
DEAR GRAN: If strangers ask a question you don't want to answer, you can both stall for time and misdirect by asking them a question.
Here's an example. Question: "Wow, you're a grandmother? How old are you?"
Answer: "Hmm. Interesting question. How old are you?"
(This person may then tell his/her age.)
And then, if you want, you can disclose your own age: "I'm 87."
The person then says, "Ha ha. I'm just curious because you look so young."
You say, "How sweet. Thank you."
If this misdirection does not lead to the person backing down, you can end the conversation by saying, "Well, age is just a number -- and I'd rather not give you mine."
DEAR AMY: Over two years ago my wife of 20 years (and my companion of 30) died of ALS, one of the worst ways to go. Death is not a Hollywood movie, and people are not at their best, but I was there for my wife all the way to the end. She died in my arms. But it was what came after that shocked me.
My immediate, misguided reaction was to ask to be left alone to grieve. That was a big mistake, which I corrected as I found an empty house, and world, overwhelming. What surprised me was who stepped up and who didn't. Many of our friends just disappeared -- some despite pleasant words at the memorial service or promises on sympathy cards.
Now, having connected with my veterans -- those who have lost spouses -- I think that I may know some of the reasons why. I hope you will share this with your readers.
It boils down to more than busy lives, because those who reached out to me were often the busiest.
A widower or widow represents to another couple the absolute certainty that they or their spouse will be in the same boat one day. You are an unwelcome reminder -- a mortician at a birthday party. Also, couples are sometimes threatened by a person who is suddenly single. This is so insulting.
Some people just don't know what to do. And for them, I have some advice: Life for the surviving spouse is a matter of getting through first the minutes, then the hours, then the days, then the weeks, the months and finally the years.
We don't necessarily need deep talk. We need an empathetic offer of company, a meal, film, a walk. A diversion from grief is what we need, quite literally, to make it to another day. Just offer a respite, a diversion from pain, even for a little while. That's all you need to do -- and that's plenty.
And if you really offer it and follow through, you will never be forgotten. -- Widowed in Bethesda
DEAR WIDOWED: Anyone who has survived personal losses and experienced grief understands the wisdom of your recommendations. A grieving person needs to figure out how to be in the world in a new way -- and a true friend will offer a gentle presence through a very tender time.