Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Question: I'm single and in my late 20s. My dad died more than a year ago, and, lately, I've been having panic attacks at the thought of my mom's dying soon, too.
I was sure I wasn't going to get through the grief of losing my dad without going insane, but I'm here and hanging on - I just always thought I'd be married with kids before losing either parent, and now I'm so anxious over the possibility of losing both before I even hit 30 that I've been acting flaky about spending too much time with my mom because, on some level, I don't want to establish a new routine with her in my life only to lose her, too, and have another gaping hole in my day-to-day life that I can't fill.
Do you have any wisdom? I feel like I can't really think straight right now.
Answer: Here's proof that you're not thinking straight: You've cut your mother out of your life because you're afraid of not having her in your life.
It's not just your basic faulty thinking, either, where the result is a car you can't afford or a degree you won't use. We're talking about wise use of limited time with people we love. When your mom is gone someday, I suspect you'll wish you'd established 100 new routines with her.
So stop letting grief call your shots, and start facing your mom and mortality in general, ideally with a good therapist.
This isn't just grief for your dad, or even pregrief for your mom. I'd say it's significantly, even mostly, grieving for the life you thought you'd have. "I just always thought" is a tough weight to carry. Consider an exploration and unburdening a gift to yourself.
Question: My friend of more than 10 years has always been difficult. She gets angry at seemingly insignificant things and then, instead of addressing them head-on, becomes passive-aggressively nasty until you basically guess what is upsetting her.
In high school, this caused me anxiety, but as an adult, I'm pretty over it.
I feel she is owed a direct explanation, but that seems really mean ("You're a difficult person, and I can't be your friend anymore"). Slowly freezing her out also seems unpleasant. What is the most direct, but still compassionate, way to handle this?
Answer: It is direct and compassionate to address the behavior that's driving you away - as it's happening.
So, when she gets angry and then "becomes passive-aggressively nasty," don't guess why. Just say plainly: "That was a nasty thing to say. You're obviously angry. Please explain why so I can at least respond."
Either she will tell you, and you can address the problem like adults, or she will keep using unhealthy tactics to punish you
If it's the latter, you say: "OK, then. When you're ready to be honest with me, you know where to find me."
And you're done: She either talks to you like an adult, or you're no longer friends. That's the opportunity you create once you're willing to walk away.
If you stay friends, keep holding this line. Manipulation is a tough habit to break.
Chat with Carolyn Hax online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.