A Son in Rehab, a Dying Parent: How to Bring Them Together?

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Social Q’s

My wife is in the final stages of metastatic cancer, and my son has just been admitted to a drug rehab facility across the country. When I spoke to his counselor about bringing him home to say goodbye, she told me that she thought his leaving the facility now is a bad idea. (I didn’t say: “And letting his mother die without saying goodbye to him is a good idea?”) I don’t want to be difficult with the counselor. But can I bring this up again? And what should I tell my wife, who asks often?


If anyone on earth is allowed to be difficult right now, Jack, it is you. I am so sorry for your troubles. And I admire your attempt to manage these tough, competing claims with grace. To the counselor, say: “I respect your opinion that my son should stay on site now. But I worry about the future repercussions of his missing his chance to say goodbye to his mom. Can we revisit this issue with his team?”

As it stands, we don’t know enough about the counselor’s reasoning or your son’s condition. You might float the idea of engaging a travel companion for your son, who could see him safely to your wife’s door, then back to the facility again. Or perhaps his physical (or emotional) state is too delicate for travel — or for a traumatic visit with his dying mother. But one thing is certain: Raising this issue again with his treatment team falls squarely in the zone of loving familial behavior. Go for it.

As for your wife, tell her you are working on your son’s visit. Share your landmark memories of raising him, regardless of the travel outcome. And encourage her to talk all she wants — of happy times and sad. Your job isn’t to fix problems right now, but to listen and hold your wife’s hand, as she says all the things she needs to say. My thoughts are with you.

He’ll Remember Mama

My boyfriend and I are in our early 20s. We have been together for over two years. We live with our families and have good jobs. Recently, I’ve been spending more time with his family, as it’s closer to work. I’ve noticed that his mother cleans his room, packs his lunch, cooks dinner for him and even schedules his appointments. (He contributes nothing in return.) I am worried about his lack of self-sufficiency, and I simply mentioned that he shouldn’t depend on his mother so much. He got very defensive about their relationship. Was I out of line?


If you want to drive a young straight guy bonkers (in my experience), call him a “mama’s boy.” (Again, in my experience: Most of them are.) I suspect they hear it as a knock on their raging masculinity or some creepy Oedipal accusation. But, dude, if your mom is washing your underpants at 24, you have officially failed to launch.

I get your worry. If your relationship progresses, you fear that you will inherit this man-child and presumably begin scheduling his teeth cleanings. But that hasn’t happened yet. He isn’t asking you to coddle him, correct? Try engaging him in adult tasks (a load of whites, anyone?) and praise him when he joins you. Avoid speaking with Big Mama; this is between you and your beau. You may advise him that full-time maid service will not be part of your relationship with him. But put yourself in his shoes: Who packs lunch if someone else will do it for us?

Onward and Upward

For years, I worked as a lawyer at a corporate law firm. I didn’t like it, but I didn’t hate it. And I earned lots of money. Last year, I was fired in a reorganization and became certified as a yoga teacher. Since then, I love my work every day. My question is what to say to friends who act like I’m crazy for doing a job where I earn a quarter of what I used to, and ask when I’m going back to being a lawyer?


If you are as happy as you say and able to support yourself, we should all be as crazy as you. All around us, people are finding new and unexpected ways to be fulfilled when the ground shifts beneath them (or when they discover their parents’ work clothes don’t fit our modern economy). It turns out there are second (and even third) acts in American lives, F. Scott Fitzgerald. (Speaking of which, watch “Sneaky Pete” on Amazon, featuring the glorious return of Giovanni Ribisi as a slippery con man.)

Who cares what your judge-y friends think? The universe gave you a little shove, and you turned it into a beautiful upward-facing dog. (That’s a yoga pose, for the three readers who don’t know.) Still, if you feel obliged to respond, say: “Who knows where I’ll end up? But I’ve never been happier!” What kind of fool would argue with that — other than one who believes, unwisely, that salary is the true marker of happiness?