Dear Annie: My in-laws live in a condominium about 35 miles from us. We visit them once a month. My father-in-law does not move around very well and is incontinent. He seldom leaves the condo. My mother-in-law still walks, but only to the grocery store or doctor’s office. She is obviously beginning to slow down.
We know there will come a day when they are no longer able to stay in the condo. However, they have no intention of moving into a retirement community. They say, “We don’t want to live in a place where there are only old people.” Meanwhile, they know no one in their condo building, where they have lived for 20 years, nor do they visit friends elsewhere.
Several months ago, my in-laws bought a miniature poodle puppy that can only be described as neurotic. If anyone enters the condo, it will either hide or sit in a corner and growl. My father-in-law says the dog would get used to us if we visited more often, and once a month apparently isn’t often enough.
Annie, we have three very active children, not to mention a house and chores and jobs to take care of. We visit the in-laws as often as possible, but we cannot see them every weekend simply so their dog can get to know us better. My husband says they are lonely and isolated, but I don’t think that is our responsibility. This is really beginning to become a problem. Please help.
— Had It in Maryland
Dear Maryland: Your husband is right — your in-laws are lonely. You are not responsible for their unwillingness to reach out to neighbors and friends, but try to be a bit more compassionate. Since you are too busy to see them more often, suggest your husband visit his parents on his own. You also can look into caregiving services if their health interferes with their mobility.
Dear Annie: This is for “Feeling the Pain in Ohio,” who has trouble shaking hands because of arthritis. Why not make life a little more multicultural and try the Asian custom of bowing? Not only will it avoid handshakes, but it could help break the ice and start an interesting conversation.
— Just a Thought from Georgia
Dear Georgia: Thanks for the idea. Here are a few more:
From Chicago: Try touching the back of the person’s extended hand with your fingertips as you say, “I’d love to shake your hand, but it’s too painful for me.”
Santa Fe, N.M.: Place a pencil in your hand when greeting customers. This will delay the handshake and give you time to say, “I suffer from arthritis so please be gentle” before offering your hand.
Tennessee: A simple solution is to wear a noticeable wrist brace. Put it on the right hand. (If it’s on both hands, some folks will think it’s a fashion accessory.) It can work wonders in letting them know to shake this hand very gently.
Sarasota, Fla.: I am a self-defense practitioner. When someone offers their hand, reach deep into their palm with your forefinger toward the base of their thumb. By doing this, the grip cannot be applied as forcefully. As an additional precaution, firmly hold their right wrist with your left hand. This will allow you to help disengage if it proves to be too painful.
Louisville, Ky.: I take the person’s hand in both of mine and gently pat their hand, saying, “I have a sore hand today.” I keep my hands flat.
California: Actually, it’s more of a refinement on your suggestion, which was pretty good — to grab their wrist or arm instead of their hand. My idea is to use your left hand instead of your right. It will throw off their reflexes and slow them down just enough for you to win the grab contest.
Annie’s Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column. Please e-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to: Annie’s Mailbox, c/o Creators Syndicate, 5777 W. Century Blvd., Ste. 700, Los Angeles, CA 90045. To find out more about Annie’s Mailbox and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.