I called the authorities on my vegan ex-daughter-in-law

Posted June 02, 2012, at 8:48 p.m.
Last modified June 03, 2012, at 6:10 a.m.
Emily Yoffe
Emily Yoffe

Dear Prudence,

My ex-daughter-in-law has full custody of my 18-month-old granddaughter “Kimmy.” We always had a strained relationship, even more so after the bitter divorce she and my son went through, but I was able to get her to agree to let me visit my grandchild once a month. Last month I took her out to a park and fed her a nutritious lunch and snacks. When “Irene” found out I had fed Kimmy meat and cheese, she chided me for not respecting her decision to not feed Kimmy animal products. I am convinced that depriving my grandbaby of nutritious meat and dairy (except for her mother’s milk) is abusive, and I called the authorities. Now Irene won’t let me see Kimmy anymore, but the authorities haven’t done anything either, as far as I know. I’m so sad and angry. And worried for my sweet little Kimmy! What can I do to make sure she gets well fed and taken care of?

— Grandma

Dear Grandma,

That was quite a lunch. It has ensured that instead of being a loving presence in your granddaughter’s life, and a bridge to her father’s family, you are probably forever persona non grata. All because of a Happy Meal. You have turned a single visit into a reason Irene will probably one day tell Kimmy that sadly her grandmother is a dangerous person who tried to have Kimmy taken away from her, so that’s why she can’t see Daddy’s family anymore.

After a bitter custody battle, your daughter-in-law graciously allowed you visitation — something she was not obligated to do. You needed to be extra careful not to say or do anything that would sever this delicate connection.

Instead, in response to a “chiding” by Irene for deliberately flouting one of her child-rearing requests, you called the authorities to report her as an abuser. I’m not surprised that Child Protective Services hasn’t acted — lack of ham and Swiss doesn’t rise to the same level of concern as beating and molestation.

Yes, it takes special attention to nutrition to raise a vegan baby, but probably half the children in Berkeley, Calif., would be removed from their homes if this constituted child abuse. For the sake of shoving a milkshake and cheesburger into your grandkid, you’ve deprived her of the sustenance of a relationship with her grandmother. But given the obliviousness of your letter, perhaps this is for the best.

— Prudie

Dear Prudie,

After a pretty brutal year with more than 120 days in the hospital fighting a bone cancer (among other things), my condition has gotten worse. My doctor agrees with letting me stop all treatments, except things to help with pain and discomfort. I’m left with a few weeks to perhaps two years to live. I’m in my 40s, and my child is grown and doing well. While I’d like to see future grandchildren and do much more, I’m at peace. I am making the most of my time, and sharing the joy I have each day. Without the medical treatments, I experience much less nausea and pain, and I have a good quality of life for at least a short time.

My family and friends, however, are not taking it so well. I hear general admonishments that I shouldn’t give up, to suggestions I seek a third and fourth opinion, to assertions I should have a bone marrow transplant (a rough procedure I would only have a 20 percent chance of surviving).

What can I say to people who love me, to reassure them that it really is OK? I don’t want to spend the time I have left defending my choice to not be a hospitalized human pin cushion.

—Enjoying the Time I Have

Dear Enjoying,

I’m sorry about your prognosis, and I hope there are many good days ahead. Your letter touches on the most intimate of our relationships (the pain loved ones feel at having to accept the unacceptable approach of the death of someone still young) and larger social issues (the pressure to give patients every possible treatment, even if treatment is of no use).

Please read this article from the Washington Pos t by Amy Berman, a registered nurse who also is facing stage IV cancer and has made the choice you have. She expresses many of the things you want to get across to the people who care about you and who can’t bear that there’s no miracle left.

Berman writes that palliative care, which focuses on maintaining the patient’s quality of life, whether that means continuing treatment or ending it, may in some cases do more to prolong life than aggressive regimens. She also describes how as a medical professional she knows how excruciating and useless it is to subject someone with an incurable disease to every last ditch effort. I suggest you print out this article and ask your friends and family to read it so they can better support your wise choice.

You might also include this story by physician Ken Murray about how doctors facing terminal illnesses often don’t put themselves through the same futile treatments they give their patients. Then, for those who persist in saying you must fight on, you can respond, “We all have a finite amount of time, but mine is more finite than most. I can’t spend it defending a choice that is medically and personally best for me. So please, let’s enjoy today and talk about something else.”

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,

Is it rude to tell people performing a task upon you — hairdresser, dental hygienist, etc. — that you don’t want to talk with them? I like to use those periods of time to relax and read a magazine — yes, even at the dentist’s — but I never know how to tell chatty people I would prefer not to talk about my personal life. I appreciate what they are doing for me and don’t want to seem arrogant.

— Silence Is Golden

Dear Silence,

I’m also one of those people who just wants to sit in the chair and read or day dream. (Although it’s helpful to look up when one’s bangs are being cut.) There must be people in these industries who would love the occasional client or patient who gives them a quiet time. At the hairdresser’s I think it’s fine to say, “I don’t want to be rude, but I love letting you do your work and using this time to catch up on my reading.” As far as being in the dentist’s chair is concerned — how do they expect you to articulate when they’ve got a saliva-sucking wand in your mouth?

– Prudie

Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. (Questions may be edited.)

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