Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.
Dec. 21 2006 12:02 AM

Here and Now

Would it be okay to have a tribute to a terminally ill friend before he goes?

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Dear Prudence,
My husband is mayor of a small village. He knows all the employees there, including 10 to 15 police officers. One of the officers is a man in his 40s who has been there since our village incorporated. He is very visible in the community, and my husband is particularly fond of him. This officer was recently diagnosed with an always-fatal form of cancer. Although he has vowed to fight it, his doctors have told him he has less than a year. All his fellow officers and employees are aware of his illness and are upset. My husband and I feel that the village employees should do something to recognize this officer and express our gratitude for his service. But what is the proper etiquette in this situation? Is it macabre to have a dinner or tribute or roast in honor of someone whom you know is dying? I would hate to let an opportunity to reach out slip away due to not knowing the right thing to do, but I would also hate to embarrass him.

—Sad and Confused

Dear Sad,
The tribute is a wonderful, not macabre, idea. How often have you been to a funeral and wished the person being remembered could have heard how much he or she meant? There are some people who don't want any special attention during an illness (some of Ed Bradley's colleagues of decades didn't know that he was dying of leukemia), but it doesn't sound as if this man is one of them. Since your husband and the officer are close, your husband should approach him about the town's desire to have a dinner thanking him for all he has done. It's hard for someone to say, "Yes, have a tribute to me," so he might make a polite demurral. In that case, your husband needs to say that if the officer truly doesn't want a party, everyone will of course respect his wishes. But your husband should then make clear that having the dinner would mean a lot to the officer's colleagues and the town's citizens. I bet it's a great event.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
I have a family holiday gathering coming up at my house. My dilemma is about the wine at dinner. Of the 12 of us, four like and appreciate good wine. The other eight enthusiastically appreciate "Two-Buck Chuck" wine, and all wine tastes the same to them. I would like to share some of my cellared bottles with those who can appreciate it, but do not have the budget to share it with family who are just as happy drinking Two-Buck Chuck. Is there a polite way to serve different-quality wine to different people at the same meal?

—No Merlot

Dear No,
The best way to do this would be to adapt for your dinner parties the handicap system golfers use. Guests would be evaluated on their weaknesses, and action would be taken to level the dining field. For example, those who can't tell the difference between Montepulciano d'Abruzzo and Mr. Clean get a slug of Ripple instead of something from the wine cellar. Family members who don't share your refined palate are served a Happy Meal and not the sautéed chanterelles. And when Uncle Hank starts droning on about his childhood in Peoria, you bring out a stopwatch and give him a three-minute warning. In other words, the answer to your question is no.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I am 31 and a divorced mother of three who has found love with a man more than a decade older. He embodies all the qualities I've been seeking, and after a year of developing our relationship, he asked me and my children to move in with him in his new home. He'd been residing with his parents before, has never been married, and this will be the first time he's left his childhood home—he felt obligated to stay for his elderly parents. I get the impression she is forcing him to choose between me and his family. His mother feels it's her duty to know everything concerning my life and instead of asking me for details, she had my boyfriend's older sister run a background check on me over the Internet. My boyfriend had a long discussion with his difficult mother and thinks it would be appropriate for all of us to talk, although he says I shouldn't expect an apology from her. I'd like to appease him and be the bigger person, but I don't feel that anything I have to say would make her more accepting of me, and I also don't think I can ever feel comfortable around this woman again.

—Trying To Be Patient

Dear Trying,
An Internet search of your background is a sensible thing to do, and no apology is necessary. Your boyfriend's mother may be overbearing, but the welfare of her child is paramount to her. You should apply that lesson when thinking of your own children, which means that you should not move in with her son. Do not make your children experience the day-to-day vagaries of a relationship that is just getting started. Maybe your boyfriend is the man of your dreams, and not the middle-aged momma's boy he sounds like here. If so, slowly continue to build your relationship as he sees what it's like to live on his own for the first time. Your children have been through the trauma of divorce, and your first obligation is to try to bring some stability to their lives. Perhaps you and your boyfriend will end up being right for each other, and he can fulfill the role of stepfather. If so, you will find that out over time—and at separate domiciles.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
My boyfriend of two years often talks and mumbles in his sleep. Most of the time it's gibberish, but every so often, coherent phrases creep through. Last night he rolled over and whispered, "Good night, 'Amy,' my love," followed by, "No, add a little more salt." Now, this first part would be a sweet sentiment if my name were Amy, but it isn't. "Amy" is the name of a college buddy's wife. I have no reason to suspect he would be unfaithful, and I know that we can't control our dreams, but I'm still hurt. I've tried to put the episode behind me, but he can tell something is not quite right with me. Is it insensitive of me to address the episode next time he asks what's wrong, or should I bite my tongue and assume that these are random firings of synapses over which he has no control?

—Not Amy

Dear Not,
Maybe in his dream, Amy was a St. Bernard who was great to cuddle with, but not much of a cook. Or maybe Amy was the college buddy's wife and they were eating scrambled eggs off each other in bed. Who cares? It's a dream! If your boyfriend commits an actual offense, are you the kind of girlfriend who acts peevish but won't tell him what it is he did wrong? If so, cut it out. Also, stop being the kind of girlfriend who turns inexplicably chilly over phrases uttered by your boyfriend during REM sleep. Depending on how badly you've been behaving, you should either offer a sheepish apology and explanation, or just drop the hurt act and remember to give your boyfriend a pass about things he mumbles when he's unconscious.

—Prudie