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    Advice Columns
    Wednesday, August 17, 2022

    Employees make sacrifices caring for dying co-worker

    DEAR ABBY: A co-worker has been stricken with multiple stage-4 cancers. We all have been compassionate and caring, supporting him through the challenges of treatment and the side effects. His condition is terminal, in the final stage and deteriorating rapidly. He does have a supportive family, but we don't have the heart to send him home and take away the only thing that gives him his reason to live — his work. So we spend our time providing hospice care, something none of us have any training for.

    Our work environment has become increasingly stressful and anxious, and it's overflowing onto our friends and families, not to mention the toll it has taken on our company. I need to make a choice — to place my family and my well-being first, take a leave of absence and abandon my co-workers, or stay in support and have a front-row seat to the imminent passing.

    — 911 ON SPEED DIAL

    DEAR 911: This is something you should discuss with your employer. Neither you nor your co-workers are trained caregivers, and no one should be administering medical care because of possible liability to the company.

    You are obviously a sensitive and caring person. However, if the situation has become more stressful than you can manage, it's time to take a step back. To do so isn't "abandoning" anyone; it is looking after your own mental health so you can provide for your family.

    DEAR ABBY: My parents divorced when I was a small child. My father remarried when I was 10, and I loved my stepmother dearly. She died in 1994 after 27 years of marriage. Daddy then met another lovely woman I'll call "Eileen," whom he dated for many years. By this time, I was nearly 40 and living 1,000 miles away from them. He eventually moved in with her, but they didn't actually marry until 2018. Eileen is only 13 years older than I am, so I have always thought of her as "my father's third wife," not "my stepmother."

    Daddy died last year, and I'm not sure how much of a relationship I want to maintain with Eileen, or how to refer to her when I have occasion to introduce her to someone. She was extraordinarily good to my father (better than he deserved, I might add), and I'm grateful for that, but the link that tied us is now gone.

    She's coming to visit soon. Introducing her to my friends as "Dad's third wife" seems a bit cold, but introducing her as "my stepmother" would mischaracterize our relationship. She had no children of her own, and I don't want to give her the impression that I have bonded to her as if she were my mother. Please help.

    — CHALLENGED IN THE SOUTH

    DEAR CHALLENGED: Treat Eileen as you would want to be treated if the situation were reversed. Introduce her WARMLY as "Eileen." If further clarification is needed, she is "Daddy's widow." That she is third in the line-up does not need to be mentioned. As to giving her the impression that you feel bonded to her, don't obsess over it. Your relationship with her is either warm and rewarding, or it isn't. If it is only obligatory, ask yourself why you feel the need to keep her at arm's length, and act accordingly.

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