'Dear Elders' Dispense Advice Online

Seniors on a computer

The Elder Wisdom Circle recruits senior citizens across the nation to answer e-mails from advice seekers. Rebecca Ellis hide caption

itoggle caption Rebecca Ellis

The Elder Wisdom Circle was founded on the premise that people over 60 have wisdom to impart. Its 250 members nationwide offer advice to thousands who e-mail the group's Web site. These self-described "cyber-grandparents" even have a column that appears in several small newspapers.

Many Circle members are computer-savvy seniors in their 60s, 70s and 80s. But the network also taps residents of nursing homes and old-age centers who may not be computer literate. Facilitators meet with groups of these elders, reading aloud letters and taking notes on the combined comments. The group's advice is later e-mailed back to the letter writer.

Below, read excerpts of letters sent to the Elder Wisdom Circle, and the advice dispensed. (Note: Letters have been edited for length, spelling and grammar.)

'In Love with a Married Woman'

Original Letter:

I work with a woman who is married. Over the past year and a half, we have become better and better friends, to the point where the attraction between us became too much and we gave into temptation to a sexual relationship. Throughout all of this, she has repeatedly told me that her marriage is on the rocks and it's just a matter of time until things come to an end. I am 100-percent positive that she is not happy in her marriage and she wants out. But she is scared to take the necessary steps to end it because she doesn't want to hurt their friends and family. I know I should leave this alone and let her figure it out for herself, but the problem is I have fallen in love with this woman, and could possibly spend the rest of my life with her if given the opportunity… What should I do?

Elder Response:

Are you serious about the question? You are being played for a sucker. If she really was serious about you, boy, oh boy, she would be running to the court to get a separation and divorce. I know this maybe hard to take, but I've heard this line more often from men, but it's the same story.

I would suggest stopping this relationship before the guy comes after you. Sooner or later he will find out, and then you could have trouble. You're young enough to find plenty of women to get serious with and provide you with what you seek.

Best Regards,


'Please Help Me'

Original Letter:

I'm 13 years old. My sister was a competitive figure skater for her whole life. Just last year, she quit training at a high-profile facility. She decided to go to a nice university in our town. I get to see her every day. It was really nice because she would stop by every so often. Well, this college slowly changed her; she's not the same person she was when she loved skating and loved her family. She's a real party girl, and drinks and is kind of snotty. It's really upsetting. So just a couple weeks ago, an incident happened that is out of my control. I heard her talking with my mother and father about getting severely drunk and going home with a guy, who could have drugged her. It's really upsetting because if you knew my sister you would be, like, no way! She is a totally different person. She stopped going to school just this week and says she's going to go back… It's really not fun having her around the house all the time, because all she ever does is bring me down… She always asks me what to do and I'm like, maybe you should try getting a job, being organized. And she freaks out! She says she's having, like, stress attacks and feels like she throws up. But she still went to a party last night…. Skating is what she loved, and now she's totally different… she buys all these skanky clothes. It's really annoying and confusing. I guess what I need advice on is what can I say or do or act like? What should I do about her changing? What should I say when she asks me what she should do with her life?



Elder Response:


Thirteen ladies and four gentlemen are responding.

We applaud you for being such an amazing sister. This is completely out of your hands right now. Your sister is badly troubled and needs psychological help.

There is an organization that's for families of alcoholics, it's called Al-anon.

You may not think so, but your sister is showing the behavior of an alcoholic and you need to go and talk to people with a similar problem. They will help you get on with your own life and help her when she tries to help herself.

You need to also get your parents seriously involved. This is too much for your shoulder. They need to take her to a mental health facility to try and get the good sister back again.

Good luck with all of this and keep us posted.

Asbury Friends


Original Letter:

My brother is married to a person who is a selfish and immature individual. I initially attributed her behavior to her age, since she was in her late 20s; but as time has gone on, she has not improved.

Recently, she cornered my mother and spent two hours criticizing my family, my parents and my brother. She attacked the way we were raised and said that my parents were terrible grandparents because they are overindulgent with my child. My mother is very upset.

My dilemma is this: Do I tell my brother everything that was said? I feel that he will take his wife's side, no matter what, since he is trying to do whatever it takes to save their shaky marriage. I am afraid of turning my brother against our family and thus losing him. Please help.

Elder Response:

Your title "sinister-in-law" is a tip off that you have both a sense of humor and a real awareness of where this problem lies. You can never defend yourself against an unhappy, angry person. Nothing is to be gained by telling your brother about her actions… It sounds as though he is well aware of her faults and their marriage is holding on by a thread. You have a close relationship with your parents and the important thing is that YOU convey to them that they are wonderful grandparents. In the interim, be as supportive of your brother's efforts as you can be. He will always appreciate your long-standing support.

Best Regards,


'Memento Box or Me'

Original Letter:

I am in a four-year relationship and engaged to be married soon. I recently discovered that my fiancée has a box of items from her ex-boyfriend who died six years ago. This box has everything from old movie stubs, a rose, love letters and even the "Do Not Cross" yellow tape that was on the site where he had died. I have asked her to get rid of it but she flatly refuses. What can I do?

Elder Response:

My daughter-in-law was killed in a very tragic accident. I loved her very much and to this day, I cherish her memory. I have a rosemary bush that she was growing in her garden and a few mementos. I have noticed that as each year passes, I am less and less "attached" to them. Time has an amazing healing power. I am positive that time will cloud over the emotional feelings and connection that your fiancée has for this former friend. My suggestion is to tell her that you understand and will give her time to heal. She may love you all the more for understanding. If you feel it is having an adverse effect on your relationship, I suggest you might both consider talking to a minister, counselor or some such person. I am sure that both you and your bride to be do not want to enter marriage with any heavy emotional "baggage." I do wish you and your fiancée much happiness.

Best Regards,


'Grad School at Middle Age?'

Original Letter:

Hi. I am 38 years old and have been in the same profession for the last 20 years. It is labor-intensive and not fulfilling. I grew up poor and was considered fortunate to obtain my current job straight out of high school. A few years ago, I started taking night classes and then transferred to my local university, where I graduated with honors in science. I have been receiving offers to apply to grad programs from prestigious schools and, if younger, would jump at the chance. My age, though, is obviously the issue, probably more with myself than others who know me. I am happily married with no children and my partner will support me whatever my decision. What do I do?

Elder Response:

Congratulations! You have accomplished a wonderful thing. Now, why on earth should you be concerned about going to graduate school if that is what you want? Of course you should go. I went back to school at the age of 43, to become a science teacher after years of nursing and selling real estate. It was hard, but fulfilling. You should continue your studies if that is what you want and if your partner will support you. Age is absolutely no barrier in today's world. In fact, some 30 percent of students today are "non-traditional," meaning us, of course! Your age is not an issue unless you choose to make it one; don't!

Please remember that I am not a professional counselor but I have done my best to help you based on my own life experience. I do hope that I have been of some small help in answering your questions. The elders are always here as a kind of virtual shoulder to lean and/or cry on, so do not hesitate to contact us and we do encourage you to recommend our site to your friends. I wish you the best of luck.

Best Regards,


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