Frequently Asked Questions

Q. My son suggested that I use an Internet technology called Skype to keep in touch with my mother, who is undergoing treatment for breast cancer and lives across the country. What exactly is Skype, and how can I use it?

A. Skype is a technology that allows people to see and talk to each other online in real time, like a video telephone. Each person has a web camera that is connected to the Internet through his or her own computer, tablet or smartphone. Skype software, which can be downloaded from, in the Apple App Store or in the Google Play store (depending on your device), allows people to call the other person and have a private conversation while viewing each other. The software is free, as is the cost of the call, so long as both of you are using Skype. Facebook’s Messenger app is another popular program that allows video calling. FaceTime is a similar feature on iPhones and other Apple devices.

Q. My children and grandchildren always come to my home for a weekend-long Christmas celebration. But this year, I’m being treated for colon cancer, and I had to leave my job. I just don’t feel like I can afford to host it the way I used to. How can I explain this to my grandchildren, especially the younger ones?

A. First, think of this as an opportunity to have a family discussion. One way to do this is to gather everyone together and say that Christmas will be celebrated differently this year, but that it does not make it any less special. Ask your family if they can help think of new ways that you can celebrate that will preserve the spirit of past celebrations. For instance, if you do not feel you can have a Christmas tree this year, kids might cut out pictures and make special frames to remember decorations from previous years.

Next, ask everyone if they have feelings about the upcoming celebration, and particularly with children, emphasize that feelings of sadness or anger are okay. On that note, it is very important to include kids in these family discussions, since they can frequently feel more confused or fearful if they think they are being left in the dark.

Q. My mom is homebound and not able to leave the house for her niece’s birthday party. How can we help include her in the celebration when we live in a different part of the country?

A. A: If there will be party favors or themed decorations, consider sending a small package to your mother ahead of time. You might also want to record the party for her, asking attendees to each film a personal message as a way to bring the party to her and let her know that loved ones are thinking of her. This might also establish a new family tradition: relatives can record various occasions and start a family library of special events that can be viewed again and again.