Relatives pressed into manual labor by aunt who lives alone

Brownwood Bulletin
Jeanne Phillips

DEAR ABBY: Ten months ago, my aunt's 66-year-old live-in boyfriend died unexpectedly. She has no children and is left with a four-bedroom, two-bathroom house to take care of by herself. She has always been in debt (I think), and his final expenses only made it worse.

Since his death, she has expected my family (mostly me) to complete a list of chores every time I visit. I have been asked to hook up her garden hose, plant grass, exterminate bees, replant flowers, vacuum -- even move her boyfriend's ashes from the original bag to a more permanent urn. So far, I have managed to avoid taking care of her pool and cutting her grass, but it's only a matter of time before the neighbors stop doing it for her.

I love my aunt, and she has done a lot for me over the years. I realize she has no kids to take care of her, but I don't think I should be expected to be her lackey for the next 30 years. How do I tell her I can't be responsible for taking care of her house without getting her upset or angry? Is it my place to say something to her mother and siblings? She has been very emotional since the death, and we've all been walking on eggshells, but she won't go to therapy. -- OVERWHELMED NEPHEW

DEAR NEPHEW: Your aunt may not need a therapist as much as she needs a grief support group to help her work through her loss. Her mood swings, which I am sure surge and wane from day to day, are magnified by her money problems. Because the house and yard are now too much for her to handle alone, it might make sense for her to downsize and put the money she gets from selling the place to work for her. Of course, she should run the idea by her attorney or accountant before making any decisions, but it might be the solution -- not only to her problem, but also to yours.

DEAR ABBY: My husband and I bought a house and moved in literally the day COVID was announced as a national emergency. I had planned to go around to our new neighbors and introduce ourselves, perhaps with a small gift (I'm a professional baker). That obviously hasn't been possible. We've had some over-the-fence interactions with a couple of neighbors, but I feel bad I haven't reached out to the others.

My husband and I are private, introverted people, but I still want to make ourselves known as approachable. Is it too late? What's the protocol on introducing yourselves to neighbors? Given that everything is in flux and we still don't know if it's safe, I don't want to let that become an excuse to put it off indefinitely. -- NEIGHBORLY IN NEW MEXICO

DEAR NEIGHBORLY: It is not too late. A charming way to introduce yourselves would be to deliver -- or have delivered -- a small plant to each of your neighbors, with a short note explaining that you are new to the community, you are a professional baker and you regret that the quarantine makes it impossible to reach out in a more personal way. Be sure to include your address and phone number.

DEAR ABBY: As we return to work, businesses and expanded health care are opening up after the pandemic shutdown. We all are pretty much required to wear masks anywhere we go these days.

I am a deaf person and rely on lip-reading for communication. Wearing a mask has shut out my contact with the hearing world as far as communication goes. I have been mistreated in more ways than one because masks do not allow me to lip read. When I'm not able to have a sign language interpreter with me, I bring a pen and pad everywhere I go to converse as best as I can.

I am a very patient person; however, people in the public sector are not being patient nor compassionate in helping us deaf individuals. Please understand, we are trying to communicate as best as we can. We simply ask the community to be patient and either lower your mask to respond, or write your response. Yelling through the mask is pointless. -- DEAF IN LAS VEGAS

DEAR DEAF: I can only imagine how frustrating and isolating this has been for you and other deaf people. Reusable transparent masks and masks with clear plastic inserts (windows) are available on the internet. (NPR has posted a YouTube video demonstration.) I would urge anyone who has contact with deaf individuals to go online and check this out. Some are marked, "Hearing Impaired." I have considered buying some, if only so friends and family can see me in my entirety and know without question when I'm being facetious.

DEAR ABBY: I babysit my 1-year-old grandson 40 hours a week while my son and daughter-in-law work nights. They were paying me $80 a week, then suddenly stopped. My son said they might not pay me all the time because they often forget to "debit over" at the store to get the money for me.

I watched the baby for seven hours on Sunday, too, while my son enjoyed a day off. When I asked him if he remembered to debit over, he replied, "Debit over for what?" I said, "For my services." He said, "Services for what?" I said, "Babysitting," and he replied that his wife should have paid me, but she didn't. -- FORGOTTEN IN FLORIDA

DEAR FORGOTTEN: I'm sorry to say this, but your son is a deadbeat who should be ashamed of himself. He could pay you by check or an electronic transfer if he doesn't have the cash on hand. If you need money, find a client who will honor the deal, which will let your son and his wife learn how expensive replacing you will be. (If you decide to let them rehire you, make sure you get the money upfront.)

DEAR ABBY: I want to be a good friend, but I'm at my wits' end. A friend has decided he is going to be a singer-songwriter, and he's terrible. He keeps sending me videos, invitations to watch him perform online concerts, etc. I have tried offering constructive criticism, which he deflects. Now he has recorded a CD, which he wants to send me at his expense. I do not want him to waste his money, and I don't care to waste my time listening to it. Is there a gracious way out of this situation? -- NOT INTERESTED IN THE WEST

DEAR NOT INTERESTED: Yes. Accept the disc, which he is sending at his expense. And when he asks you for a compliment, give him one. In other words, be a friend, not a music critic.