Dear Abby: My widowed aunt, now alone in a big house, expects visitors to do chores

She’s too fragile for a serious talk about how to get the work done.

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DEAR ABBY: Ten months ago, my aunt’s 66-year-old live-in boyfriend died unexpectedly. She has no children and is left with a four-bedroom, two-bathroom house to take care of by herself. She has always been in debt (I think), and his final expenses only made it worse.

Since his death, she has expected my family (mostly me) to complete a list of chores every time I visit. I have been asked to hook up her garden hose, plant grass, exterminate bees, replant flowers, vacuum — even move her boyfriend’s ashes from the original bag to a more permanent urn. So far, I have managed to avoid taking care of her pool and cutting her grass, but it’s only a matter of time before the neighbors stop doing it for her.

I love my aunt, and she has done a lot for me over the years. I realize she has no kids to take care of her, but I don’t think I should be expected to be her lackey for the next 30 years. How do I tell her I can’t be responsible for taking care of her house without getting her upset or angry? Is it my place to say something to her mother and siblings? She has been very emotional since the death, and we’ve all been walking on eggshells, but she won’t go to therapy. — OVERWHELMED NEPHEW

DEAR NEPHEW: Your aunt may not need a therapist as much as she needs a grief support group to help her work through her loss. Her mood swings, which I am sure surge and wane from day to day, are magnified by her money problems.

Because the house and yard are now too much for her to handle alone, it might make sense for her to downsize and put the money she gets from selling the place to work for her. Of course, she should run the idea by her attorney or accountant before making any decisions, but it might be the solution — not only to her problem, but also to yours.

DEAR ABBY: My husband and I bought a house and moved in literally the day COVID was announced as a national emergency. I had planned to go around to our new neighbors and introduce ourselves, perhaps with a small gift (I’m a professional baker). That obviously hasn’t been possible. We’ve had some over-the-fence interactions with a couple of neighbors, but I feel bad I haven’t reached out to the others.

My husband and I are private, introverted people, but I still want to make ourselves known as approachable. Is it too late? What’s the protocol on introducing yourselves to neighbors? Given that everything is in flux and we still don’t know if it’s safe, I don’t want to let that become an excuse to put it off indefinitely. — NEIGHBORLY IN NEW MEXICO

DEAR NEIGHBORLY: It is not too late. A charming way to introduce yourselves would be to deliver — or have delivered — a small plant to each of your neighbors, with a short note explaining that you are new to the community, you are a professional baker and you regret that the quarantine makes it impossible to reach out in a more personal way. Be sure to include your address and phone number.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Contact Dear Abby at or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

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