While I'm away, readers give the advice.
On explaining death to children: When my mother was very young, she was extremely concerned about dying and repeatedly asked her mother (my grandmother) about it.
Eventually, Grandmother turned to her and said, "Look, do you remember what it was like before you were born?" My mother said, "No."
"Well," said my grandmother, "That's what it will be like when you die."
I was in my late 50s when Mother told me this. It continues to be comforting.
On partners who refuse to budge on one thing or another and won't say why: Why are some people such gutless wonders that they won't say things in plain English? Or, as we say to children, "Use your words."
If someone used his words, it could lead to a productive (if possibly unpleasant) discussion. In my opinion, it is both selfish and cowardly for people to refrain from explaining themselves verbally when they are in a relationship with someone who clearly desires such communication.
On "overbooked" member and other obstacles to family togetherness: I am one of four, and our tradition was to gather to open gifts and celebrate on Christmas Eve. As we began to marry, we continued the tradition. The one sibling who had no children gradually and ultimately bowed out.
My husband, two children and I "did" Christmas Eve with my parents, spent a short time with each other Christmas morning, then went to the in-laws' for a big dinner.
It occurred to me, much too late in the game, that my husband and I never established traditions with our own children.
In our 60s and 70s now, we siblings rarely get together, and when we do, it seems forced. We're not estranged, it's just that we have little in common as adults.
Annual events need not be rubber-stamped year after year. Enjoy the enjoyable, be civil when required, and don't fake "togetherness" to the point of resentment.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Chat online at 10 a.m. Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.