While I’m away, readers give the advice.
Love 1, Dysfunction 0: When I remarried, the greatest gift my new (and older) husband gave me was defense against my mother.
When she made her snarky comments, many I’d heard since early childhood and throughout my first marriage, he would touch her gently on the forearm (she hated being touched) and quietly say, “We don’t talk that way to Ann.” It was a tremendous gift of protection, which my children and I enjoyed for 25 years before his death.
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I believe it’s the greatest gift a spouse can give.
On navigating different preferences on family size: I was in a difficult position a number of years ago after the births of two children. I had been one of three, my husband had been one of three, and I had always presumed that we’d have three. He, however, felt strongly that we should have only two, as our replacements without growing the population.
It was a difficult decision but we finally agreed to stop at two. I went through a period of mild grieving for the third child I would never have, then I told him to put his money where his mouth was: Our birth control was now his responsibility.
He had a vasectomy. Both of us gave up something and got something in that bargain: He gave up his fertility and got the two children he believed in, while I gave up a theoretical child and got free of artificial hormones.
I encourage couples to find their solution together.
On losses and dread: I’ve had a wonderful friend for over 35 years – absolutely one of the people who truly understands how to sustain and nurture friendships over years and miles. She has many friends and family nearby so there isn’t a lot of need for me to fill when she has difficulties. I’ve always felt bad that I couldn’t do for her like she has for me.
Then, when my mother died, God, the universe, the cosmic wheel, gave me a way to repay her devotion – I could NOT be the Ghost of Christmas Future in her life. Her mother is one year younger than mine was, and my loss was frighteningly similar to what she will face way too soon.
So what I can do is not call her when I am sad – though I know she’d be there for me – and I can not dwell on the loss too heavily when we do talk. Instead I can ask about her grandchildren and let her tell me about their antics, though I’m not a kid person.
Time and circumstances will bring us to a common frame of reference on loss of a beloved mother sooner than either she or I pray. The chance to spare my friend from going to this sad place any earlier and more frequently than absolutely necessary is a blessing.
Sometimes our losses – of health or parents or jobs – scare our friends, and they just want to live their regular lives and not think about it – or catch it.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.