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Natural disaster inspires neighbors to help

Amy Dickinson

August 24, 2013

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Dear Amy: Our small town recently suffered a natural disaster, and about 50 homes, including mine, were affected in a big way. Many friends and a few acquaintances did a lot of dirty, tedious work to remove wet belongings to speed up the long process of recovery.

I wasn't home when it happened, but arrived in time to be intimately involved in the difficult work. I understand what they did. I don't know the names of everyone who helped. I need to thank these wonderful people.

We have modest resources, but with a few years of extra work we will recover.

What we lost is considerable, but it can't compare to what happens in less-developed countries. We are thankful for our health and the chance to start again.

I have considered a donation to a nearby disaster relief agency or to our community foundation to thank these volunteers. I've also considered a dinner at a local restaurant, which struggles to make a profit; I could invite the people who helped me. I'll personally thank, in writing, those whose names I know.

Should I pay people? How can I best thank and honor these good people without taking away from their gift to me?

— Bryce, in Lindsborg, Kan.

Dear Bryce: You have already thanked your neighbors in this space. Now, act out your heart's intentions (though I don't believe you should pay people).

Also, spread your gratitude by paying these good deeds forward. No doubt some day in the future you will be called upon to be the anonymous helper, assisting with clean up — and I have a feeling you will be on the front lines. That's the way people roll in communities all across this country.

Dear Amy: I have been dating a widower for almost two months. He lives out of town but we are spending weekends together. His wife passed away 2 1/2 years ago (I have been divorced for 10 years).

Pictures of him and her with family are still on the walls of his house. I recently asked him to remove the one of him and her in their bedroom, and he did.

He tells me he leaves the family ones up because of his kids and grandkids coming over. They were married for 38 years and it looks like the house has not changed since her passing.

Is this man really ready to be in a relationship? I want to go to his house but it gives me an uneasy feeling when I do. I have met two of his three children, who are in their late 30s. I felt I was drilled with questions.

Now I wonder if maybe they don't want him to get involved with someone. I have talked to him a little about this, and I just don't know if he is really ready for his next life. Sometimes I wonder if I am just a "test run."

— Worried

Dear Worried: You are a "test run" for a relationship. So is he. It's called "dating." People date for a reason: to get to know one another slowly, gradually and in stages.

This man has every right to display anything he wants on the walls of his house.

When this man is ready to commit to a serious, exclusive relationship with you to the extent that "his" house becomes your shared house, he should negotiate with you about renovating/redecorating and perhaps consigning to albums the family photos he currently displays on his walls.

Please, slow down. His adult children are justifiably curious about you. Be kind and respectful, instead of suspicious about their motives. If you two take your time, many of these issues will resolve themselves.

Dear Amy: "Private Sister" was worried because her sister was posting private information about their brother's mental illness on a social networking site. She is correct that the decision if, when, and who to inform about her brother's mental illness is her brother's. The most important thing either sister can do is support their brother in a loving, nonjudgmental way, and find a way to advocate and educate that honors him.

— Leigh

Dear Leigh: I agree. Thank you.