Dear Annie: Last week, my stepfather called me to say that my 78-year-old mother came downstairs complaining that her “brain wasn’t working right” and that she was dizzy. She sat at the table for an hour before getting herself breakfast and doing the crossword puzzle. Then she asked him the same crossword question three times in three minutes.
My husband said Mom may have had a stroke and that she should get to the emergency room. I suggested this to my stepfather, but he said he wasn’t going to do that on a Saturday. So I called Mom’s doctor, who said to bring her in to the hospital so they could see whether she’d had a stroke and, if so, monitor her blood pressure.
I told my stepfather what the doctor said, and now he is angry with me, saying I overstepped my authority. He said it was not my place to call Mom’s doctor and get her the help she needs. Later, when I spoke to my mother, she was surprised by all this and agreed to see her doctor. Unfortunately, my stepfather did not accompany her, and she neglected to tell the doctor that she had been dizzy and forgetful.
Mom has shown other signs of short-term memory loss, but never this bad before. They live about an hour away from us. How much should I help, and how much should I mind my own business?
— Worried About Mom
Dear Worried: It is not uncommon for people to minimize the health problems of spouses. It is much easier for your stepfather to believe his wife will be just fine, although the fact that he called you with the original information indicates that he was worried.
Instead of telling him what to do or doing it behind his back, include him in these decisions. Pay a visit to Mom, and sit down with both of them. Explain that Mom’s doctor is concerned that her dizziness and forgetfulness could be serious. Ask if you could accompany Mom to the next doctor’s appointment. Ask how you can help make this easier for both of them. Let him know you are counting on him.
Dear Annie: This is for “Amateur Author in El Paso,” who wants someone to read his manuscript and offer feedback, but his family is not interested. He should be grateful his relatives don’t want to read his writing. Unless they are professional book editors, their feedback may not be helpful.
I have edited 38 national bestsellers since 1979. Here’s my advice: When you look for a writers group, make sure the members are knowledgeable and supportive. The facilitator should have credentials you can trust. (You do want a facilitator so everyone has a turn and no one’s ego goes out of control.) Find a professional editor to mentor you. Consult the Better Business Bureau, the Writers Digest Classified section, and the website that identifies “preditors and editors” (pred-ed.com). Ask for references from recent clients.
Hang in there. People don’t write because they want to. They write because they have to.
— Sarasota, Fla.
Dear Sarasota: Thank you for your professional advice. Many readers wrote to tell “Amateur Author” not to ask friends or relatives for their opinions, because they are not qualified to offer useful assistance and their feedback could be counterproductive. Here’s one more:
Dear Annie: From my experience and what I hear from other writers, the last place to go for feedback on your novel is your family — and probably most of your friends. I recommend looking for a supportive writing group through your community’s recreation department, local newspapers, libraries, bookstores, senior centers and night schools.
— Getting Great Feedback in Santa Cruz
Annie’s Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column. Email your questions to [email protected], or write to: Annie’s Mailbox, c/o Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254. 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.
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