Dear Prudence

Silent Right

I’m dying of cancer. How do I keep my siblings from speaking at my funeral?

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
I was recently diagnosed with Stage IV cancer and have been told that I probably only have a few years to
 live. My husband and I have talked through many of the end-of-life issues, including hospice care and cremation versus burial. I find that my biggest fear is related to my memorial service. I have two siblings who are not close to me, my family, or my parents, but they are known for attending family funerals and giving “no holds barred” eulogies filled with criticism of the departed’s life and choices. Since I obviously won’t be there, sometimes I think it really shouldn’t bother me. But I find the thought of my teenage children listening to their vitriol very upsetting. Should I handle this by leaving written instructions with my husband outlining who can speak, or am I putting too much pressure on him during what will be a difficult time for my family? He is very loving and supportive, and will do whatever I ask him to do (within reason)!

Fear of Funeral Frankness

Dear Fear,
I hope you have many more years than you expect and that they are good ones. I admire your clear-eyed ability to address what is a devastatingly painful situation. When it comes to planning one’s funeral some people just don’t want to think about it; some people express general wishes (cremation not burial, memorial service not funeral); some people orchestrate every detail, from the music to the speakers. Of course, each of these choices is valid. You can make whatever decisions you want, let your husband know your wishes, and then put your funeral out of your mind. It’s a good thing your husband is open to talking with you about this, because sometimes loved ones can’t bear the impending loss, and so try to prevent this conversation. As far as the specifics of your situation and your awful siblings are concerned, you need to do whatever is necessary for you to stop dwelling on them. I have been to memorial services at which the microphone is open to any friends or loved ones to share a memory, and the tributes were wonderful. But I’ve also attended a funeral where a childhood friend walked up and asked the rabbi if he could speak, and was redirected back to his seat. If you fear your siblings would hijack the event, then specify that they should be barred from speaking, and ask your husband to assure you that the necessary steps will be taken to keep your jerk siblings away from the mic. We’ve all been to weddings and funerals at which a speaker becomes inappropriate. No one in the audience thinks it reflects badly on the person being honored; everyone thinks badly of the person speaking. It may be you’re focusing on your siblings as a way to distract yourself from the enormity of what’s happening. But once you take care of this detail, please put them out of your mind. Knowing they have no power should empower you.


Dear Prudence,
In the 1970s, my brother’s classmate was murdered. He was in elementary school. Shortly before his death, the boy had come to my brother’s birthday party, and my father took a nice photo of the boys in the local park. Many were striking funny poses—the boy who was killed is smiling sweetly, standing among his friends. Whenever I look at the picture, I wonder if his parents would like a copy. I recently asked my parents if they thought we should send the photos, but they thought it would be wrong (bizarre, cruel, etc.). What do you think? Would it be a wonderful gift—or a painful shock—to receive a heretofore unseen photo of their son from some party they probably don’t remember from more than 30 years ago?

—Holding On to an Image

Dear Holding,
Your question made me think of the front page story this week in the New York Times about the testimony of the mother of Etan Patz, the 6-year-old boy who disappeared in 1979. His case has been reopened, and it’s no surprise that his mother Julie cried when recounting the day the family realized he was missing. But I was also struck by this: “She was composed through most of her testimony, even laughing at memories of her boy’s burning desire to be grown up, to go to school on his own.” That article reinforced my belief that you should give the family the opportunity to have the photo. It might be a shock from them to receive, unprepared, an envelope that contains a previously unknown photo of a long-dead child. So contact them, tell them what you’ve explained here, and ask if they would like a copy. I’m sure they won’t say no. Then, when it arrives, they can decide if and when they are ready to open the envelope. I think it’s likely they will be grateful to you and will treasure this new memento of their lost son.


Dear Prudence,
I am a 28-year-old happily married mother of two. I recently discovered that one of my co-workers, “Mac,” spread a wholly untrue rumor about me to many people in my department. A little while ago, I got a Facebook message from a co-worker saying she had overheard that my husband and I were swingers and asking for more information about the lifestyle. I responded that I was not a swinger and that she was misinformed. After questioning another co-worker, I learned that about a year ago Mac told many people in my department that my husband and I were swingers. Additionally, he told several people that he had stopped going to a weekly social event because I had made him feel uncomfortable after propositioning him. None of this is true! I thought Mac and I were friends, although he’s always been an attention seeker, a smooth talker, and a storyteller. Mac has since quit this job and moved out of state. I work with wonderful people who treat me professionally and respectfully. (It took a year to learn that this rumor even existed.) Now, I walk the halls wondering who thinks I’m a sexual predator. I am not sure how to go about clearing my name, and I would also like to let Mac know how his lies in the workplace are hurtful. I am considering giving him a cathartic phone call, or should I just let it go?

—Feeling Compromised

Dear Feeling,
I have the feeling that most, if not all, of your co-workers weighed what they know about you with what they knew about Mac and settled on concluding Mac was a whack job. You ended up hearing the rumors only because someone was hopeful enough the swinger part was true, so that she might get to engage in some after-work socializing with you and your husband. Do not contact Mac. Blessedly, he’s out of your life. Now some other innocent co-worker is likely dealing with his craziness. If the rumor was fresh, I would have suggested you take action. If he were still there you would need to confront him, talk to HR, even threaten him with a defamation suit, while also letting the blabbiest office members know you were talking to a lawyer about his false accusations. But the rumor is old and Mac is history, so I think letting this go is better than stirring it up. The woman who inquired about swinging has every incentive to keep her mouth shut. The friend who enlightened you also heard your shocked denials. I think you’ve done all the damage control you need, because it doesn’t appear that the malicious Mac did any damage to you.


Dear Prudence,
I’m a young guy who’s in a monogamous relationship with my sweetheart from college. We did the long-distance thing successfully, and now we’re living together. Everything is awesome. He gets me, he makes me pancakes, we’re totally sexually compatible and into the same things. There’s just one problem: He does not enjoy spooning. He says it’s uncomfortable for him because he doesn’t know where to put his bottom arm, and my voluptuous hair gets in his face. Spooning is one of my favorite nonsexual (and sexual) things to do together because I like the feeling of my butt on his junk. I’ve told him this, and he says he understands, and so he’ll sympathy-spoon me for a few minutes, but it’s just not the same. How do I get him to want to spoon me? Also, he’s fine with being little spoon, but I don’t want that. Plus, it’s not fair if he gets to be little spoon and I don’t. We need your help.

—The Lonely Spoon

Dear Spoon,
You need to stick a fork in this. Let’s put aside your general happiness and the great sex, he makes you pancakes! If spooning were central to your sexual expression, then you’d have a real problem. But it’s not the entrée, it’s dessert. You like some après cuddling, and you want to be the demitasse, not the soup spoon. But for him, impersonating a silverware drawer hurts his arm and obstructs his breathing thanks to your abundant locks. Yet he’s such a good guy (does he also make waffles?) that he’s generous enough to give you a little sympathy spooning. Every couple, no matter how compatible, has points of incompatibility. Be glad yours is over something so minor. Some people’s incompatibilities make them feel as if they’re being knifed in the heart. 


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