DEAR HARRIETTE: I'm feeling very sad and a little scared right now. I just learned that a man I used to know many years ago died from the flu. He was in his mid-50s.
I've read about the flu being lethal this year, but this has hit close to home. Like so many people, this guy didn't have insurance, so he was trying to heal at home. He didn't go to the doctor when he was feeling sick because he couldn't afford it. I'm told that he was resting at home trying to get better, but he ended up dying in his house. I feel so bad about this. Sad for him that he died alone, even though he had a lot of friends.
Also, it's scary. I don't have insurance. When I get sick, I go to the doctor only if it's really bad. I'm guessing he had no idea he could possibly die. How can you know that for sure? I am feeling my mortality and not knowing what to do right now. -- Fearing Death, Milwaukee
DEAR FEARING DEATH: It has been reported that this year's flu epidemic rivals that of 2009, when our country battled swine flu. Many people are suffering, and quite a few -- from children all the way to elders -- have died. The threat of this illness is real.
For people who do not have insurance, you can still get medical help if you feel you are in a life-or-death situation. You cannot be turned away at a hospital emergency room. You will be treated and will be able to pay later for the service. Obviously, you don't want to do that unless it's necessary. Warning signs that you could be in trouble, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, include difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness, confusion, severe or persistent vomiting or flulike symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough. For more information about the flu, go to cdc.gov/flu/takingcare.htm.
You are also grieving. Even though you were not close to this man, his death has stirred a lot of concerns in you. This is normal. Consider attending a grief workshop. You may be able to find a free one at a local house of worship.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My sister was recently diagnosed with cancer, and it sounds like it's pretty bad. She has decided not to tell anyone about her illness because the doctors have told her that there's nothing she can do about it, and she doesn't want to worry her husband or friends. I think this is crazy. Her husband is going to be devastated and angry if he doesn't find out before she dies. I also think he will be angry with me for keeping my sister's secret. Do you think I should tell him? I know this is my sister's life, but I feel like I'm caught in a terrible situation. -- Should I Tell?, Aberdeen, Maryland
DEAR SHOULD I TELL?: You should not tell anyone without your sister's permission. You do have a heavy burden to bear since she told you, but your duty is to stay true to her. Do your best to tend to her needs. Ask her what she would like you to tell them when the time comes. Perhaps you can get her to write something or talk it through with you.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a Spanish speaker and find it infuriating when my co-worker "Connie" pretends to speak Spanish by affecting a horrible accent and adding an "o" to words. I don't think she understands all of the implications that come from her actions. Should I tell Connie that the office is branding her as a racist and not a comedian? -- Learn It or Lose It, Bangor, Maine
DEAR LEARN IT OR LOSE IT: Rather than making a comment to Connie about the office branding her as racist, be specific about how you feel. Educate her. There is a good chance that Connie's actions are pure ignorance, potentially without malice. This does not make her behavior any less offensive, by the way, but it may allow you to have more compassion for her.
Tell Connie that when she attempts to speak Spanish extremely poorly that you find it offensive, not funny. Point out that what she is doing seems racist to you whether that is her intention or not. Let her know that you suspect that you are not the only person who looks down on what seems like mockery of Spanish speakers. Suggest that she stop.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I found out some information about what a "friend" was saying about me behind my back. I chose to ignore this but distance myself from her. "Blaise" has just noticed that I haven't spoken to her much in the past months and has been bombarding me, expressing her love for me and trying to get together. I never confronted her when I first found out that she'd been a bad friend, and now don't know how to react to her. Beating a dead horse is pointless, but she also might deserve an explanation of why I essentially cut her out of my life. Which option should I choose? -- Too Long Ago, Jackson, Mississippi
DEAR TOO LONG AGO: Walking away from a deceitful friendship can sometimes work. When you know with certainty that someone has spoken badly about you, it is OK to step back rather than confront the person. But when that person reaches out, bewildered, trying to reconnect, it can absolutely be worth it for you to respond. She deserves to know why you disconnected from her.
What's more, if you let her know that you are aware of her behavior -- specifically telling her what you learned that she said about you -- you will be able to clear the air. This doesn't mean that she will admit to having made the comments. Often people lie. Ultimately, you will have to decide whether you will let this woman back into your life.
I do recommend that you forgive her. This is because holding on to this grudge will hurt you far more than it will hurt her. Be willing to hear her out, draw your own conclusions about how much you can trust her now that time has passed, forgive her and continue to live your life. Do not let her sidetrack you.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been going home more and more to see my ailing grandfather. He remains very upbeat and asks me why I have traveled so far every time I visit. He doesn't have much time left and has been told this; however, it doesn't seem to be sticking. Driving 300 miles isn't the hardest part about going home. It's not knowing what to tell him when he questions me. What can I say to my grandfather? His mind is still there, but his body is betraying him. -- Last Weeks, Detroit
DEAR LAST WEEKS: Tell your grandfather stories about your life. Tell him about your journey to visit him. Did you see anything interesting on your drive? Describe the sunrise and sunset. Tell him about your friends, your home, your job. Be selective with your stories. To the best of your ability, tell positive stories that show glimpses into how you live your daily life.
You should also ask him about his life. Invite him to tell you about his childhood, family and friends. Ask him what he liked to do when he was a child. Ask him to tell you about when he met your grandmother. Learn from him any and everything he remembers and is willing to share. Once you get him going with stories, it may be easier the next time you visit. You can ask him to pick up where he left off. With prompting, he may be able to share many gems about his life before he passes on.
DEAR HARRIETTE: A running joke within my circle is that I run on "Tatiana time." I am late to everything and can't seem to quit this horrible habit. Friends lie to me about flight times, showtimes and reservations so that I will arrive closer to the actual time.
I need to stop being late, but nobody believes in my ability to do this. Setting alarms earlier doesn't do much to rouse me because I know I am tricking myself. How do I finally scrap "Tatiana time" for good? -- Own Clock, Portland, Oregon
DEAR OWN CLOCK: Step back for a moment and take a hard look at what you are doing. You are being disrespectful to your friends, your family and ultimately to yourself. Being late is rude and irresponsible. I hate to be so harsh about it, but clearly this is what you need. Think about how you are treating the people you say you love. It is not fair.
That so many have attempted to figure out creative ways to get you to be on time, only for that to fail, says that you are not taking this seriously enough. Indeed, even your own alarm-setting isn't working. I believe this is because you have not accepted the depth of the negative repercussions that you are causing. So please consider that if you do not improve, you could lose your job, your friends and even the support of your family. Is this what you want? If not, tell yourself that being timely is important, and just do it.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My girlfriends and I are admittedly a catty group. We have frequent drama but always end up growing closer when all is said and done. Recently, a friend's husband, "Al," has been getting involved in our arguments. Having a friend's husband call me to discuss something I said about his wife is ludicrous to me. We are all grown women who don't need husbands meddling in our drama. How can I tell Al that his two cents are not (and will never be) welcome? -- Not Your Battle, Boston
DEAR NOT YOUR BATTLE: Consider a different thought here. If Al is contacting you about your argument with his wife, there's a chance that his wife is still upset about whatever you discussed with her. It may easily be that she leaves your argument and either goes home still angry or, worse, her husband overhears her on the phone -- or in person -- arguing with you and has to pick up the pieces when she pivots to him.
My point? Take heed. Perhaps you are being a bit too catty, and this is why Al is speaking up in defense of his wife for the sake of peace in his household. Rather than rebuffing him, let his call to you be your wake-up call to tone down the drama.
DEAR HARRIETTE: If a couple gets back together after an extended breakup (months to years), is a new anniversary date set? I personally started over, but my best friend claims that getting back together is simply a continuation of the past relationship. Should I be shifting over the anniversary date? -- Modern Love, Minneapolis
DEAR MODERN LOVE: Instead of talking to your best friend about this, it is appropriate to talk to your partner. The two of you are in this relationship together. Does it feel like this is a total new beginning or a continuation of what you had together in the past? Do the two of you want to mark your coming back together as a fresh start? Talk about it.
Some couples have rededication ceremonies or even anniversary weddings to honor their continued union. You can do whatever you want. The point is that you consider your options together and decide together how you want to acknowledge the bond that you have.
Getting your friends involved could prove problematic, especially given that you have just gotten back into each other's lives in a committed way. Chances are your friends know a lot about the negative experiences that you had with each other. People tend to moan long and often about the bad stuff. It is best not to mix the friendships in with the romance. Reserve a special part of your life for your partner that you do not share with others, unless you both agree that it is OK to do so. This may take a while to put into practice, since it is likely not how you have been operating. Trust that it is worth it. To preserve and strengthen your relationship, you must put it first.
Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106