Dear Margo: “Friends” Without Brains

My husband was ill and now my friends and family turn to me for grief counseling: Margo Howard’s advice

“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 Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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71 comments so far.

  1. avatar sueb1997 says:

    One of my favorites, that I can’t believe no one has posted yet… 

    A minister was asked to dinner by one of his parishioners, who he knew was an unkempt housekeeper. When he sat down at the table, he noticed that the dishes didn’t seem clean.  He commented to her about it.  His hostess replied, “They’re as clean as soap and water can get them.”  He felt a bit apprehensive, but blessed the food anyway and started eating.  It was really delicious and he said so, despite the dirty dishes.  When dinner was over, the hostess took the dishes outside and yelled, “Here, Soap! Here, Water!”

  2. avatar wilowist says:

    I love my rat terrier Charlie, but I do not expect my friends to feel the same about him. When I visit them, he stays home. When they visit me, he is confined to another area. I would never leave him in a car under any circumstances. His dishes are two-cycle washed in the dishwasher with my dishes. The woman who needs her dog with her at all times sounds in need of therapy.

  3. avatar Jody says:

    Before I comment I just wanted to say that I think it’s cool that people care so much for their animals. What an incredible gift a family pet can be when it’s appreciated and loved.

    Just my opinion:
    Don’t let your dogs or your kids lick your plates in front of company. If you do that stuff behind closed doors and no one knows any better, so be it. But, there are just some things that are acceptable in your family arena that are considered rude in front of company or guests. Why offend someone’s sensibilities?

    As a sidebar, I would probably be less grossed out by my own dog licking my plate than I would be by yours. Honestly though, I’d still be grossed out by own dog.

    My daughter was trampled by the neighbor’s “friendly” black lab in our own driveway when she was only 3 years old. I had to pull the dog off of her while she was screaming and crying and completely terrified. At her age, this dog was twice her size and all teeth, regardless of how he appeared to me or the neighbor. I was FURIOUS. From that day on, my daughter has had to fight her fear of dogs. She is 15 now, but will give off the wrong vibe to dogs because she has not been able to overcome this (even though I’ve worked with her on it over the years.) Because of this, my parents’ next door neighbor dog (a German Shepherd) got loose one day while she was going in to my mom and dad’s home and proceeded to bite my daughter on her rump while she was scared (sending that vibe to the dog) and desperately trying to enter my parents’ house. Are you going to tell her your dog is friendly just like the neighbor did? I don’t buy it. If you send ANY breed the wrong “vibe” (as my daughter unintentionally did), you can get hurt. They are animals… and not for everyone. My kid did NOTHING wrong. The dog was unleashed and unattended. So, no matter how great you think your dog is… get over yourself and understand that every dog has the ability to show its animal side. I love dogs and have been a dog owner many years. But, I am careful not to offend others because of the love of my dog. He’s not a person… he’s a dog and licks his butt and God knows what else. Just sayin’.

  4. avatar chipgiii says:

    LW1:  Good advice.

    LW2:  I don’t care if the dishwasher does sanitize completely.  I don’t want it licking my plates either.  We teach kids to behave, she needs to understand not everyone loves dogs and there is a time and a place for dogs.  She needs to feed her dog and not assume that the dog is welcome at parties, lunches, dinners, etc.  Sheesh….I would find someone bringing a dog in my house without asking as offensive as someone lighting up a cigarette without asking.  And if the lady did ask, she then LW2 needs to tell her she prefers her not to bring the dog.

  5. avatar Pam Fink says:

    To LW1: That brings to mind how my “darling” mother-in-law used to tell me about EVERY SINGLE truck accident she heard/saw/read about when my husband first became a truck driver. Every. Single. One. I kept thinking, “Come ON, Mom! I already worry about him out there don’t make it WORSE!!”. It’s been 6 years since he started and she’s backed off with the truck accident stories… maybe because he’s been in two himself. Neither his fault, both weather related, no one hurt (except himself) or killed in either one.

    LW2: Again I think of my In-Laws…. they have this dog. So gosh darn tiny I could hold him in one hand. Anyway, they leave food on their plates, and cut it up in teeny tiny pieces just for him. They save food from restaurants for him. They take him with them as much as they can. Licking a plate clean is a normal thing for him to do. They wash it afterwards of course. I…have 3 cats. They eat their food and only their food. I don’t feed them table scraps, I don’t take them everywhere. They are cats. Now I will admit since I had my daughter, I don’t baby my cats nearly as much as I did before she was born. But they live with that.

  6. avatar Anne Whitacre says:

    I am a dog owner and dog lover and dogs do not belong everywhere, just as children do not belong everywhere.  The dog is better in a crate  (or other “safe home place”)  at home than in the car; and dogs do not need to eat off of people dishes — that is why there are dog dishes.    If you talk with a dog trainer, a big part of the problem with dogs is when their owners start treating them like people. 

    Doesn’t this woman have people she can meet at work?  Can’t the dog owner just save her “dishwashing” for after the guest goes home?  there are a lot of answers to this issue.