Carolyn Hax: Should they install a railing to help disabled friend?

Dear Carolyn: We and our friends are aging. I have been aware for some time that we need to install a railing on our front stoop. My husband is against installing a handrail because of the cost. We have the funds.

He simply doesn’t want to use them for this home improvement.

This week a friend, recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s, came to visit with his wife. He couldn’t navigate the porch steps. I went to help him as he reached for a planter that I knew wouldn’t hold his weight. Near disaster averted. My heart broke watching him walk slowly into our home.

I felt we added to our friend’s emotional burden as well as endangering him physically. My husband’s response was that he is supposed to use a cane. It’s too costly to install a railing. We can help him navigate the steps next time, or his wife can.

We have always been the “entertainers” in our group. I want friends to feel welcome. Making it hard for them to enter our home and further diminishing their mobility, safety and sense of self seems unwelcoming at best and cruel at worst.

My husband and I regularly discuss your columns. I told him I’d be writing to you.

Perilous Porch: We’re all aging, if we’re lucky enough to be north of the dirt line.

But we have choices when it comes to being or not being a jerk.

I believe your husband knows which one he’s choosing without my having to say it.

I’ll say it anyway. Your husband has chosen to be a jerk to your friend. A disabling illness comes with enough stress and heartbreak on its own without the added worries of pitching oneself into a flowerpot on what is supposed to be a life-affirming evening with friends. He might feel humiliated or scared or both and just stop coming. Awful. Your instincts on this are correct across the board.

If that doesn’t impress your husband, then I’m sure the lawyers and insurance experts in the audience see other implications of not making your home’s entry safe for anyone who comes to your door, health or friendship status notwithstanding.

Arguably most important, your husband has chosen to be a jerk to you. It is plain to me after less than a minute of reading that you are emotionally invested in your role as group host. It’s how you see yourself and it hurts you when your guests aren’t comfortable. That your husband would deny you the railing based on short money (“short” for someone who has it to spare, obviously) says he’s missing the point of who you are. Whether that’s by accident or design, I guess you’ll find out when you discuss this over your bran flakes.

You can offer, and I suggest you do, to meet him halfway or more: You take on the labor of gathering estimates for the work and finding ways to do it inexpensively, and, if he still balks, pay for it yourself out of your discretionary funds — which I hope you both arranged for early on in your marriage. If you didn’t, then, aging or not, there’s still time to set that up for occasions just like this. Not to mention, your husband’s stance is just bean-county and cruel enough to warrant a preemptive stash.

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