Dear Gayle,

A woman I know lives quite near the place where I work, so she stops in sometimes on her way by. I wouldn’t mind spending a minute or two in a brief chat, but after this lady tells me everything she wanted to say, she starts in telling me all over again as if she thought I wasn’t listening the first time. It’s not like a dementia where she doesn’t remember that she just said all that, it’s more like she thinks I won’t get how important this is unless she finds several ways to tell it to me. I’ve gotten so aware of this kind of repeating that I’ve caught myself doing a little of it to other people, so I’m working to cut it out.

My visitor is the mother of a friend I had in school who later moved away, so I know all her kids from back then. The mom fills me in on the accomplishments her children are having. I am never sure if she’s telling me this stuff so I can share her pride, or help her accept why it is her kids never seem to have as much time to spend with her as she thinks they should. Honestly, after she starts in on time number four of the same stuff, I can imagine one reason why she might not be getting visited so often. When she talks about how well the kids and grandkids are doing, it always comes back to how all that impacts her needs.

I have been tempted at times to either call my friend to ask her to step up the visits to her mother, or to just invite the mom to do something with me, but I keep getting an even stronger feeling that I shouldn’t do either one. What does it sound like to you? Should I invite her to go to dinner?

— Should

Dear Should,

No, you should not. I come down on the side of your present course of action being the best one, which is doing nothing beyond the occasional, patient listening that you are now doing. If you invite this woman to go out for dinner, she will quickly begin to assume that doing this is a new pattern, and not a one-time, or rare event. If you do not keep it up, you will get added to the list of those who disappoint her. Further, if you were to make involvement with this woman a more regular part of your social time, your doing so will no doubt get used by her as another way to pour more guilt onto her absentee children, something that I am sure she is doing already. Unless you would be expanding your casual relationship with her because you, too, are lonely, I would not do it even once. I would continue to reward her drop-by visits with patient listening. That alone is a gift.

As for phoning your school-time friend, I can think of nothing that you might say that would improve anything. You would become just another means by which guilt is being spread.

Dear Readers,

It was a slow-letters week, but that gives me an opportunity to share a thought with you. It is that time of year again when life seems caught between joyous and chaotic. In many conversations recently, the topic seems to move toward how many of us must deal with handling the more stressful aspects of this season. Allow me to offer my take on it.

If you are a giver of gifts, and your give-to list is longer than three names, you know stress. If you cook and/or bake for a fair-sized group at this time of year, you know stress. If you field dozens of phone calls asking you to donate, if finding or ordering any amount of the right holiday cards and addressing them is your challenge, if you decorate, wrap, attend, finance, practice for, entertain, participate in, etc., at this time of year, then higher-than-normal stress is likely your temporary roommate.

While plenty of magazines offer great ways to organize, and to keep stress at bay, I will lend only one: this is a season of joy. If you do all or none of those things listed above, you can still keep joy.

Look over your to-do list. Are there any stressors that you could give up without losing friends? Then choose either to keep them on that list, or to do without. Look at each listed item to determine its trimming potential. Is sending a basket-load of cards a huge chore? Consider removing the names of those you will be seeing, or speaking to on the phone during this time. If you give up sending cards altogether, do that without allowing guilt to move in in its place. There is no amount of emotional room that will allow guilt and joy to co-exist. Assess all your holiday duties this way for a better chance for more personal enjoyment and reduced stress. Happy, joyous holidays to all of you.

[Write to Gayle at: LV MY TAKE ON IT, 435 Broad Street, New Bethlehem, PA 16242, or send email to Anonymity will be maintained in keeping with all current HIPAA standards. Not all letters can be answered, but those that might have broader interest among our readers are more likely to be chosen. If you believe that you have something useful to add to a published response, please send it in; it will be considered.]

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