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Margo Howard


Mom Purloins the Diary Dear Margo: I found out last week that our 17-year-old high school junior is having sex with her boyfriend! First of all, I found out the wrong way: I snooped in her room and read her diary. Second, she would never admit to it, so my husband …Read more. The Bad Seed Dear Margo: I never thought I would write to an advice columnist, but here goes. I've been dating someone for about a year now, and we talk of marriage occasionally. He's ready for commitment and very gung-ho about us getting married, which is …Read more. Oh, and, Uh, By the Way... Dear Margo: I am soon to be 27 years old, and my only serious relationship ended a few years ago. In hopes of avoiding the standard meat market of dating, I'm considering registration with I've also had my share of casual relationships.…Read more. It Is in the Bible, but Not in the Stars Dear Margo: I have been dating a wonderful man for four months now. He is very kind and sweet in every way. We are much in love and happy together. There is only one problem: We are different religions. I am a Christian; he is agnostic. I have …Read more.
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When Granny Knows Best


Dear Margo: My grandmother is 99 years old and lives alone in her apartment. For a 99-year-old, she is incredibly sharp, and her health is remarkably good — except that she falls frequently. It's clear that she can no longer walk unassisted. She has a part-time aide who comes in a few hours a week, and her sister (also in her 90s) lives in the same building. When she falls, she slowly drags herself to a phone and calls her sister, who then must call a building employee for help. We don't know how often she's falling, but we know she has knocked out some teeth this way and has injured her back and hip.

I love her immensely, but she is the most stubborn woman I know. She has a Life Alert pendant but refuses to use it. We tried to get her to agree to a nursing home, but she adamantly refused, so we dropped it. She will not agree to full-time help, saying she will not let "strangers" into her home. She gets very defensive and changes the subject. She says if she falls and can't get up, then she is OK dying that way. We have tried to explain to her how selfish it is not to think about the person who finds her. Is there anything we can do to force the issue, or do we have to accept the fact that she wants to die alone on the floor of her apartment? — Frightened

Dear Fright: I can already envision the mail I will get saying, "Are you nuts?" but this is my honest opinion. Your beloved granny is almost 100 years old. She is not demented, chooses not to use her Life Alert and has announced she is OK with dying, even if it's on the floor. The point you make about her being selfish in not thinking about the person who finds her on the floor is not particularly persuasive. (She could very well die in her bed, and the shock of finding her would be the same.)

What may be selfish is not really listening to her. Maybe she is simply tired and ready to go. You say she has all of her marbles and yet refuses a nursing home or live-in help.

Try to hear her and accept her wishes. She may have brittle bones and fewer teeth, but she has her autonomy, and I think she should be allowed to maintain it. Your situation is a real-life case of "Whose Life Is It, Anyway?" — Margo, problematically

Then and Now

Dear Readers: Many people tell me they're sure the letters in advice columns today have to be wilder and racier than "in the old days" — if only because of the Internet. Finding human nature mostly unchanged, I tend to disagree. I went rooting around in my mother's files to prove my point, and I offer you this letter from 1999. It was not exactly a problem, but rather a reader commenting on "unusual behavior."

Dear Ann Landers: The most hilarious column you ever wrote helped me turn the corner when I was seriously ill several years ago. Mine is dog-eared. Would you please reprint the letter about sex and Batman? — A St. Petersburg, Fla., Fan

Dear St. Pete: Here it is.

A couple sitting on their back porch enjoying a lovely summer evening was startled by screams for help coming from their neighbors' house. After dialing 911 and arming themselves with a baseball bat, the couple proceeded to their neighbors' to assist in any way they could. As luck would have it, the front door was unlocked, and so they walked right in. They followed the frantic calls for help to an upstairs bedroom, where they found the neighbor lady stark naked, tied hand and foot to her bed. On the floor lay her husband, unconscious, wearing a Batman cape and mask.

It became apparent that the couple was into both bondage and fantasies. Mr. Batman had attempted to leap from the dresser onto the bed, but in the process he bumped his head on the ceiling fan and went out like a light. The next-door couple untied Mrs. Batman, revived Mr. Batman and took him to the hospital, where he was treated for a superficial head injury and released. This certainly gives new meaning to the term "safe sex."

Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers' daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.




20 Comments | Post Comment
Margo is one of my favorite advice columnist (right up there with the "Advice Goddess"). Her answer today to LW1 is a good example of why. I agree with all of her points. "Granny" seems to have faced her situation and the approaching end of her life, and is doing fine... a hundred times better than most people her age, or half her age. To the LW, if you're reading this, I know you love your grandmother, but your misguided compassion and "good intentions" could ruin her life and break her spirit if you keep pushing and badgering her to do things she doesn't want to do, and trying to guilt-trip her into accepting your point of view. It's time for you to accept hers. Most people, toward the end of their lives, become helpless and dispirited. Many die in a state of sadness, having lost their autonomy long before the end. Let your grandmother continue living till the end, as she has so far... strong and independent.
Comment: #1
Posted by: sarah morrow
Fri Apr 26, 2013 12:03 AM
@Sarah Morrow. I agree 100%.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Answermam
Fri Apr 26, 2013 4:47 AM
LW! - That would be a simple answer for granny; however, so often it doesn't work that way. What so often happens in real life is granny falls down, breaks a hip and needs care, and because she has refused to do any planning in advance, it falls to granny to figure it out. Not to mention, her sister can't be a spring chicken, and what kind of stress is this putting on her?
Comment: #3
Posted by: Candice
Fri Apr 26, 2013 4:54 AM
Margo, your mother was an intelligent woman, but she believed every urban legend that appeared in her mail was fact. That's what the Batman story is.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Kimiko
Fri Apr 26, 2013 5:07 AM
Even before I read Margo's response, that's what I was thinking. Granny is still thinking clearly, and clearly is more okay with dying on the floor than losing her independence. That said, I might abandon the nursing home and full-time aide arguments and keep pushing the Life Alert pendant. That does for her what her poor sister is doing now, and quite contrary to losing her independence, will help her maintain it.

Candice does raise a good point about what happens if granny doesn't die suddenly, but begins a slower decline and simply can't care for herself anymore. Since the topic is so charged, you might let it rest for awhile, but maybe, say, around her next doctor's appointment, bring up with her what she wants to do if she's diagnosed with dementia/becomes physically disabled. Point out it happens to much younger people. If granny is still sharp as a tack, she has surely thought of this possibility at some point. But listen to what she has to say, even if it's taking a cyanide pill on the day of her diagnosis.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Jers
Fri Apr 26, 2013 5:25 AM
LW1--There's not much you can do about your 99 year old grandmother if she refuses to help herself. She won't allow "strangers" into her home to assist her; she (bizarrely) refuses to use her Life Alert pendant and a nursing home is out of the question. It's time you accepted the fact that your grandmother will indeed very likely die alone on the floor after one of her falls. Apparently that's perfectly fine with her. The stubborn old crone is nearly a century old, do you really think you're going to change her mind?

LW2--I've heard that story many times (each more embellished than the last). It's always a hoot!
Comment: #6
Posted by: Chris
Fri Apr 26, 2013 5:36 AM
LW2: The Batman letter! I remember it well! Funniest advice column letter ever!
Comment: #7
Posted by: PuaHone
Fri Apr 26, 2013 2:13 PM
LW1 -
I can understand granny not wanting to lose her independence to a nursing home and not wanting to lose her privacy to strangers being in her home 24/7, but I would be curious to know why she refuses to use the Life Alert pendant. Apart from that, what Margo said exactly.

Comment: #8
Posted by: Lise Brouillette
Fri Apr 26, 2013 2:26 PM
Sadly, at some point, it is a safety issue for others. LW1, your 99 year old grandmother has achieved a remarkable age. Now think about this, what happens if she sets fire to her apartment? What about the people in her building?

My Grandmother has very little common sense and likes to come up with short cuts. Instead of scraping the ice and frost off her windshield, she liked to run the hose over the windshield. Two windshields later, my parents were finally able to convince her not to do that. She also would not roll the hose up again, so the water in the hose froze a couple of times and she caused some damage to the wall around the spigot when the water would not go through the hose. Then she took to just scraping what she could reach on the drivers side of the windshield. None of the mirrors or windows scraped. Thank God my parents finally sold her car and she can't drive anymore.

There is a woman in my church who is 103 and still drives herself to church. She is as sharp as a tack and can be difficult to keep up with. She never had kids or even married. Nor did her only sibling. There is no one left and she has built a wonderful family of friends, neighbors and distant cousins. She moved into an assisted living because she didn't want to make a mistake and forget something and have it possibly hurt others. Her 90 year old next door neighbor burned out her house making toast.

The senses and reflexes are not as great as we age. And sometimes it isn't about us, it's about our neighbors and family.
Comment: #9
Posted by: Chelle
Fri Apr 26, 2013 7:32 PM
Re: Chelle
Hey Chelle, long time no read! Welcome back, you were missed!
Comment: #10
Posted by: Lise Brouillette
Fri Apr 26, 2013 7:58 PM
Why is everyone so concerned about "granny's" safety, when she doesn't care about anyone else? What happens is the old girl falls while the stove is on, or she falls asleep or simply forgets and starts her apartment on fire. If she were the only one to die, okay...but why take an apartment complex full of people with her. She probably doesn't drive anymore and THAT is because she might hurt herself or someone else. He living situation is the same, it is no longer safe for her to be alone because of the harm that might come to others. Hundreds if people ebing left homeless or injured becuase she wants to be feisty is NO excuse.
Comment: #11
Posted by: Tracy
Fri Apr 26, 2013 10:28 PM
@ Chelle, Tracey

Both of you make excellent points. The fact that granny could harm or even kill others because of her stubbornness and refusal to accept help in her old age didn't even occur to me. But, you're right; since she lives in an apartment building there's a very real possibility that others could come to great harm or be left homeless when granny falls while frying something on the stove!!
Comment: #12
Posted by: Chris
Sat Apr 27, 2013 5:55 AM
Hi Lise my friend, I have been lurking for almost a year now. I read your posts, and a few others. I did witness the bashing that took place and the departure of HERSELF. I do post occasionally, especially when it hits so close to home.

In the case of LW1, everyone who lives and breathes has the potential for disaster. But factor in age related issues and you have a much higher chance of an accident. Here where I live, an apartment building in an adjacent neighborhood lost three units due to an eighty year old man who left a pan on the stove. He'd been cooking since he was small, you put the pan on the stove, turn on the burner and then empty the contents of the can into the heating pan. In this instance it was roast beef hash that didn't make it into the pan, and the empty pan ignited a single box of cake flour, which blew up and then set fire to the curtains and so on. Two hours later and five people have no more belongings and are sleeping in a shelter. This gentleman was beside himself with guilt. He couldn't believe that the neighbor knocking on his door distracted him from a process he had done for nearly 75 years. They never smelled the smoke in the hallway, both had age related diminished sense of smell. It's THAT easy.

An older person can argue all they want that they'd never do that, but it's surprising how things happen. I'm 44 and I switched to an electric kettle with an automatic shut-off because I kept forgetting the kettle on the stove. I'm not as stupid as I am distracted and busy. It can happen at any age, it just happens more often to those at an advanced age. We're human.

But being human won't soothe the grief that a person feels when something does happen. And a 99 year will grieve in a way that could end their life.
Comment: #13
Posted by: Chelle
Sat Apr 27, 2013 10:51 AM
My Mother's mother is 89 years old and lives in her house by herself. She ran off two caregivers before the third one took and wouldn't budge. The first caregiver lasted a week, the second took off after 15 minutes.

It is sheer stubbornness that has made the caregiver stay, Stella is sure that my Grandmother will one day blow up the house with her forgetfulness and her cockamamie jerry-rigged ideas. And Stella is worried about the neighbors because the houses are not that far apart.

My parents got my grandmother an electric kettle too. She decided she wanted to set up a coffee making station in her living room, so she wouldn't have to leave the television to get a cup of coffee. So she linked three extension cords (bought from the thrift store and at least thirty years old) and snaked it through the kitchen (under the cotton throw rugs) into the dining room and under the sofa (with newspapers shoved under it) to the coffee table. Where she stacked a bunch of magazines under it so the heat didn't damage with laminate on the coffee table.

Grandma was brewing coffee and steeping tea in the comfort of the living room when my parents showed up. My Dad immediately smelled smoke and followed it to the living room. The newspapers were stacked so tightly under the sofa that there wasn't enough air to ignite completely so it just slowly baked. My Grandmother yelped and protested as my Dad tore apart her carefully laid out path of extension cords. He got shocked twice while doing this because there were so many cracks in the thirty feet of old cords.

Additionally, there was an outlet five feet from the coffee table and my father asked my Grandmother why she didn't use that outlet and she said, "then the cord would trip me and I can't risk a fall at my age!"
Comment: #14
Posted by: Chelle
Sat Apr 27, 2013 11:12 AM
oh yeah, and my father asked why she didn't set up the coffee making station on the buffet behind the living room sofa and she said, "oh, I can't turn my head that way and I'd end up having to get up off the sofa".

Sadly, this adventure is not the dumbest or the worst of what she has done or is capable of.
Comment: #15
Posted by: Chelle
Sat Apr 27, 2013 11:16 AM
Re: Kimiko

Kimiko, I remember reading the original Ann Landers column, and no, Ann did not believe every "creative" letter she ever received. Somewhere out there Mr. and Mrs. Batman are still probably turning red thinking of this.
Comment: #16
Posted by: Bonnie Simpson
Sat Apr 27, 2013 6:47 PM
Probably no one will see this, as I'm posting well after the fact, but...

It's all fine and good that Granny thinks she is OK dying alone on the floor. And I agree that urging her to think of the poor person who has to find her that way isn't particularly compelling (or wouldn't be to Granny). But I suspect Granny hasn't thought this all the way through.

About a year ago, I went to visit an older neighbor of mine (she was only in her 70s and very vibrant and independent -- still driving, sharp as a tack, etc.). Long story short: I found her lying on the floor in her living room, where she had been, by herself, unable to move for close to 10 hours. I had tried to call her earlier in the day, but unfortunately she didn't have either her landline phone or her cell phone near enough for her to reach. When I found her, she was disoriented, barely able to talk, horribly dehydrated and in great pain. I called 911, she was taken to the hospital, and within another 24 hours, she had died. Since she lived alone and her nearest family a good two-hour car ride away, it could have been days before anyone found her.

She had to spend 10 hours in that state, all alone. Scared, in pain, knowing she was likely to die alone. I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest Granny THINKS she is fine with dying alone on the floor -- until the time comes when she actually has to go through it. If she's LUCKY she hits her head hard enough that she is knocked out and dies. If she's not, she potentially gets to spend long, torturous hours knowing she is dying alone.

My neighbor's family is forever grateful that I happened to go over to visit her that day so she didn't have to spend another second in hell on the floor, and in the end, she did NOT die alone. I am grateful to have found her alive instead of already decomposing -- but I also fully believe that if she'd been found sooner, she may well have lived through this ordeal. It would never have occurred to me to suggest Life Alert to her -- she still tended her own garden and was in pretty good shape physically and excellent shape mentally. She generally always had her cell phone around, too. But not in her pajamas on that fateful day.

And yes, Granny may be sharp as a tack and wouldn't forget about leaving the stove on, etc. -- but on the other hand, if she falls and can't get up, she's not going to be in a position to turn the stove off...

I'm all for doing everything possible to honor the wishes of someone like Granny -- so long as I think Granny REALLY understands ALL of the potential consequences of her wishes.
Comment: #17
Posted by: Lisa
Mon Apr 29, 2013 6:31 AM
Re: Lisa
I can se-e-e-e-e you... (peek-peek) ;-D

Good points. I think I'll call my alarm system company this week and find out what kind of life alert system they offer.

Comment: #18
Posted by: Lise Brouillette
Mon Apr 29, 2013 10:07 AM
@Lise -- LOL! The reality is that even a young person living alone can have something bad like this happen. The difference is that a young person living alone is more likely to have a job that s/he goes to on a daily basis, and so someone would miss him/her sooner. In the case of my neighbor, she still worked, but she was a real estate agent with a home office. So, she was either in her office (alone, in her house), or she was out showing property, so short of missing an appointment with a client of something, it was possible no one would miss her for a few days. She had plenty of friends, so eventually someone was going to miss her, but... Indeed, I had called her earlier that day and thought nothing of it when she didn't answer her phone -- she was a busy lady and couldn't always take every call the split second it came in. Even when I walked over to go see her, I nearly left without realizing there was a problem. Her car was in her driveway, but when I rang the doorbell, she didn't answer. But she has other friends, so it was entirely plausible to me that she had gone out with a friend who picked her up. Something made me ring her doorbell one more time, and when I did, I heard her cry out for help. Looked in her window, saw her on the floor and immediately called 9-1-1 and called out to her that help was on the way. I had a key to her house, so I ran back to my house, got the key, and by the time I got back, the ambulance was pulling up, and I was able to let them into the house.

The point is: ANYONE living alone, especially someone who isn't expected to show up somewhere on a regular basis (be it a job, a volunteer gig, what have you), can be at risk of something like this happening. I'm not necessarily suggesting Life Alert for every single person who lives alone. But I do think Granny may need to rethink her situation. If my neighbor had survived her ordeal, I feel certain she would have told Granny she's nuts to think she'd be OK with dying alone on the floor.
Comment: #19
Posted by: Lisa
Mon Apr 29, 2013 2:27 PM
My mother refused to use her life alert pendant even though she fell twice and was discovered by friends. She didn't want to disturb her neighbors!
Comment: #20
Posted by: gregm
Fri May 3, 2013 7:30 AM
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