Midwest: I have a question about a very unusual, delicate situation. A dear friend of mine was married two weeks ago. In the course of celebration, I and many of our other friends purchased wedding gifts to give to her. However, we weren't all able to give them at the reception, for various reasons (not being in town, waiting for it to arrive in the mail, planning on getting something from a special vacation location later in the year, etc.) The bride unexpectedly passed away six days after the wedding. It's a tragedy, of course, and we are all grieving. My question is...what do we do with the gifts we weren't able to give her? Do we still give them to the husband? Return them if possible and donate the money to a charity in her name? What if returning them isn't possible? He has two small children from a previous marriage, and so we are all doing everything possible to support them, and I'm sure he could still use new plates and glasses, but none of us want to give him reminders of what should have been a very happy time in his life. Thanks.
Emily Yoffe: How horrible! And now you don't make a ghastly mistake of saying, "I know Janice would have enjoyed this trivet, so I hope you can use it in your new, single life." If the family has asked for donations in her name, yes, it would be a good idea to return the gift and use that money it toward a contribution. If you can't return the gift, jeez, then regift it, use it yourself, whatever, just don't sent it along to the grieving widower.
Washington, D.C.: Prudie—help! I have a weird situation and I can't find advice about it on the Internet.
After years of fruitlessly spending time on a creative pursuit I've had an enormous success. I just got the first of several paychecks for a multiple of my annual salary. Great, right?
But I don't know how to tell my friends or family and so I haven't said anything even though this happened a month ago. I'm old enough to have seen money tear apart a lot of friendships and families, even between genuinely good people. When I think it, though, any approach seems wrong. Matter-of-fact is arrogant, celebration is vulgar, trying to act like it didn't happen is phony and maybe even condescending. I feel like socially it's a lose-lose.
Emily Yoffe: Congratulations! But I don't see what your problem is. You tell people you sold the screenplay and you're so excited; or that documentary you've been slaving away on for years has just been picked up by a distributor; or your history of macramé plant holders has been chosen by Oprah as her fall book club selection. The point is your creative efforts are being recognized in the marketplace, and everyone who knows how hard you worked should be happy for you. It's not anyone's business, and you don't have to mention, just how gratifying the marketplace has been.
Seattle: My father was abusive to me and my youngest brother, and in addition to the physical and verbal abuse, I was also molested by this man. I told my mother, or tried to tell my mother, a couple of times when I was younger that it was going on, once when I was 11, and again when I was 14. She ignored my attempt to ask for help, and swept it all under the rug. It was just a non-event.
Several years later, when I was about 16, my parents got divorced because my father was having an affair that he was not willing to give up—just one in a string of others. I saw this as a sign that my mother was finally seeing him for how he truly was, and took that opportunity to talk to her about the previous years of abuse. She claimed she never knew about it (a convenient go-to excuse for everything regarding her husband apparently) and swore to never try to rekindle their marriage now that she knew about this.
Fast forward ten years later, they have remarried each other. She says now that he was 'saved' and goes to church with her every Sunday, and that I must have been mistaken about some of what I 'remember'. In other words, she is happy to just have her husband back and is eager to sweep everything under the rug, once again, even if that means thinking of me as a liar.
I have since moved to the west coast—they live on the east coast, and have a family and four children. My parents have been re-married for many years now, and after several years of frankly avoiding speaking to her and her new-again husband (I refuse to call him 'dad' any longer), I finally started accepting phone calls from her a few years ago for the sake of my 3 daughters—her grandchildren, who are teenagers now. My youngest son is 5 and has never met them.
She occasionally makes remarks about why I don't visit, or suggests that I let my daughters spend the summer there with her.
She is clearly in the complete denial phase again, and I just don't know how to respond. Normally I just say we're busy or we have a trip planned or some other excuse. I have no intentions of EVER visiting these people (my parents) ever again, and I have no desire to ever have them around my own children. I barely tolerate phone calls, which is my limit, for the sake of my kids, and those are only with my mom, never my dad.
I do not want to dredge these painful memories out of the closet again, as I feel I have moved on and dealt with them. But what can I say to my mother to get her to close the 'visit' topic forever without cutting off all communication with her, which would hurt my kids?
Emily Yoffe: Your mother suggests you send your daughters to spend the summer! Is this so grandpa can find some new victims? You need to tell your mother what you've expressed so well here: you are willing to have phone contact so your children will have some relationship with her. However, there will not be any visits because your father is a pedophile who sexually assaulted you, and you will never, ever allow your children to be in the same room with him. You can tell your mother if she is unsatisfied with this arrangement, you can go back to having no contact whatsoever. And your letter leaves me worried that your father is still out there in the community, possibly hurting other children.
Hendersonville, N.C.: I have a family problem that has stumped even my wise circle of friends. My father-in-law has a single-wide mobile home at my husband's home town at the beach. He has invested quite a bit of time and effort to make it livable for my husband, my five-year-old daughter and me when we come to visit. My problem is this: I can't go back to stay there. Despite his efforts, the place is a mess. He smokes indoors, and constantly. No matter how much he tries to clean, the smell has settled into the walls and carpets and I can't stand it. The rest of the house, especially the kitchen, is obviously the domain of a man who has no use for what I would consider basic cleaning supplies. And even if I came to visit armed with said supplies and spent ten hours using them, the smell of stale cigarette smoke would still be there, vile and nauseating. Given these issues, how do I present my feelings to my husband in such a way that will not offend him and his father? I truly feel awful about it, but I just cannot go back, and I don't want my daughter there, either. Help!
Emily Yoffe: Your marriage should be comfortable enough so that you can say to your husband that you adore your father-in-law and love visiting him, but the cigarette smoke makes staying in the mobile home a no-go for you. Tell him when you visit you need to stay in a motel or with other relatives for your physical comfort. It also might be possible that your husband and daughter could visit Grandpa for a few days without you. The rule would have to be he doesn't smoke in the house when your daughter is there. Unless she has asthma, etc., a few days in his place surely won't hurt her.
Thank you notes: I was given to understand that thank-you notes, while always nice and almost never improper, were only necessary when the recipient opens the gift outside the presence of the giver and doesn't have the opportunity then and there to thank the giver. Thus, if the new mother got the crib at a shower with everyone present and did the requisite fawning over what a wonderful and thoughtful gift it was, it seems she has done her duty.
And since when does failing to send thank-you notes give license for people to get affronted? Presumably you gave a gift because you wanted to help celebrate whatever occasion the gift was for. If people start demanding thank-you notes in return... well that just seems petty. Again, I'm not saying people should just ignore their obligations to write thank-you notes, but getting your knickers in such a huge twist when you don't get one seems ridiculous.