“Friends” Without Brains
Dear Margo: I am in my mid-40s. After eight years of marriage, my husband died last year of an insidious brain cancer. It was 10 months of “progressive” illness from onset to his death at home, and it’s been a year of slow rebuilding — and a lot of staring off into space. During his illness, dozens of friends and family rallied around to provide support and care. They were magnificent.
My problem is this: Several of those people now “check in” from time to time to tell me horror stories of other people (most of whom I don’t know) suffering with one form of cancer or another. Oddly, the main offender is my own mother, who rarely had a kind word to say about my husband prior to his illness, but now praises him to the skies and has pretty much told me that now that he’s gone, the best part of my life is over.
I don’t know what to do with this. If it were specifically brain cancer people were telling me about, perhaps I could offer insight or strategies for coping. But for any other type of cancer, what the heck do I know? And why are these people thinking I would be interested in hearing gory details? I do not wish to spend the rest of my life reliving my husband’s cancer and soaking up the misery of everyone else’s. What do I (politely) say to these folks? — (Not) Our Lady of Sorrows
Dear Not: Forget polite, honey, and just practice cutting in, right at the beginning of these organ recitals, with a quick sentence along the lines of, “You know, I find these conversations depressing, so let’s talk about something else.” As for your mother, she sounds like a piece of work, so I would issue a special fiat just for her: “It is best for me if we do not talk about my husband or his illness.” And I would get caller ID so there will be fewer occasions on which you need to remind her. — Margo, authoritatively
Dealing with a Dog Person
Dear Margo: My husband and I recently moved to another state for his work. We’re in a small town without many young families. We recently met another relocated couple our age (late 20s). Both husbands travel a great deal, and the other wife and I now spend time together when our husbands are away. The problem is her (large) dog. She brings him everywhere, including restaurants. She leaves him in the car, but goes to check on him every half-hour, and she brings him to my house. I invited her to my sister’s for my niece’s birthday party, and she brought the dog! Then she spent the whole time keeping the kids away from the dog.
Not being a dog lover myself, I’m having a hard time understanding this. We have also taken to cooking together sometimes when our husbands are away (at her house; better kitchen). She routinely lets the dog lick her dishes before they go in the dishwasher. I don’t want to lose this friendship over a dog, but I’m grossed out eating at her place. Honestly, I’m afraid if it came down to hanging out with me on a Saturday night or being at home with the dog, she might pick the dog. Selfishly, I don’t want to alienate the only woman my age in this small town. — Eating Out of a Dog Food Bowl
Dear Eat: Let me guess: This woman has no children. I am down with her devotion to Fido because I, myself, have granddogs. They belong to my daughter (the doctor), who informs me that while my idea of a dog’s “clean mouth” might be a myth, the dishwasher will kill just about anything, if only in the drying cycle. If you have not gotten sick so far, assume by empirical evidence that the risk to your health is negligible. The friendship sounds important to you and Fido sounds important to her, so try to look elsewhere when the dog “pre-washes” the plates. — Margo, pragmatically
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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.
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