Dear Amy: There seems to be no protocol for what might be expected concerning the presence of an ex-spouse at a memorial service.
My ex-husband “Bert” and I were married for 40 years before getting divorced because of his involvements with other women and then, at the end, a long-term affair with the woman that he later married. We have three adult children.
After Bert’s recent death I am feeling a lot of ambivalent emotions (mostly anger) at his selfish and hurtful behavior toward me, along with other lies he has told, which have had a huge impact on me and our children.
Our children want me to attend the service. But what should I do when people offer me their condolences or tell me how wonderful Bert was, and how terrific his wife “Brandy” is? I certainly don’t feel like agreeing and thanking them.
How do I behave in a dignified way that doesn’t betray my own integrity and feelings?
— Upset Ex
Dear Upset Ex: If you behave in a dignified way, you won’t have to worry about your integrity, because dignity is the outer manifestation of integrity.
Your presence at this service is not as an honored principal, but as a guest of your children, and any focus or attention directed toward you should be deflected toward them. Please, leave your ambivalent feelings and anger behind, and if you can’t, then stay home.
If you do attend, you should maintain a discreet presence. If it is uncomfortable for you to sit with your children and your ex’s family members toward the front of the venue (or if you believe it would be uncomfortable for your ex’s wife), you should let your children sit together with other family members, and you should sit in another area.
People are not likely to gush to you about how wonderful your ex-husband was (the gushing is generally not directed toward former spouses). But if they do, you need only say, “Well, I knew him for a long time, and I know he will be missed” (not by you, necessarily).
This event embodies the dictum: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
Dear Amy: I have a friend I see a few times a year. Lots of times, in addition to bringing me a bottle of wine (so nice of her, albeit unnecessary) she gives me gifts related to health, to “prevent” colds and illnesses, or to shorten the duration of maladies. (I have a complicated health history.)
These are all medical quackery, nothing a doctor would recommend. They are usually “health”-type powders to put in water to drink and often have some strange ingredients or unusually high levels of certain vitamins.
I have unsuccessfully tried to discourage her from bringing me these miracle cure gifts, even telling her that my spouse and I are not interested, but she brings the gifts anyway.
I must add that she and her husband are not doing well at all, financially, and I feel my friend should not be spending her money in this way.
I haven’t had the heart to tell her to bring these unwanted gifts back home when she smilingly presents them to me, informing me how I will be helped by their anti-illness and curative properties. I have graciously accepted the gifts and thanked her, but I don’t feel right in doing so.
How can I best handle this?
— Ungrateful Hostess
Dear Ungrateful: If you don’t have the heart to send these things back home with your friend, then accept her gifts with thanks, and simply don’t use them.
However, if you did have the heart (and the guts) to send these things back home with her, then you would likely end this cycle and spare her the expense and effort. You could say, “This is so kind of you. It’s very generous. I know you care about me, but I won’t use these things, so I’m going to send them back home with you. Seeing you is the only tonic I need.”
Dear Amy: You missed one important point in your answer to “Worried Mother,” whose med student daughter was groped by another student.
The young woman will be a doctor; she will see things that she will be required, by law, to report. She should consider this as part of her education, and she should report him to the school herself.
Dear Mary: Absolutely. “Worried Mother” should offer her the support and encouragement she needs to report this crime.