Dear Prudence

My Mom Wants to Steal Her Ex-Boyfriend’s Ashes

She says she’ll do it only if his wife won’t find out.

Shadow of a woman's hand over an urn.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by KangeStudio/Getty Images Plus and Prostock-Studio/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

We’re publishing a special-edition column of classic Prudie letters for Labor Day. Danny will be back to chat on Tuesday at noon ET. Submit your questions here.

Dear Prudence,

My mom’s first love died recently. The plan for his remains is for them to be cremated and then for his current wife to keep them in an urn. My mom wants to take some of his ashes from the urn and to then take them to their old spot and scatter them, assuming she can do so without alerting his family and thus adding to their pain. She thinks it will help her mourn and that it will not do any harm to him or his family, especially since she will do it only if she can be sure they will not find out. I think it is disrespectful to his remains and that, if he wanted his ashes to be scattered someplace special, he would have talked about it with his wife. Should I stop her? Is this a strange but OK reaction to the death of someone important to her, or should I encourage her to seek other ways of mourning?

—Mourning or Desecrating?

Yes, you should stop your mother from trying to steal her old boyfriend’s ashes, even if it’s just “some of them.” His family will want all of them. I understand that your mother is grieving, but I think this is a wild, irrational response to grief. Of course, wild and irrational plans are a perfectly understandable response to the sudden loss of someone you loved deeply. I don’t fault her for having a mad, daring plan for claiming a part of the man she felt she lost. But that doesn’t mean she should follow through with her plan. I’m not even sure how she could. There is no way your mother could siphon “just a few” of his ashes unnoticed; it would be a shock and a scandal and deeply upsetting to her ex’s family. It would harm them and humiliate her.

It may be simple grief, or it may be a sign that your mother’s mental condition is not what it was, if she thinks she can pull this off. She needs to find a less intrusive way to mourn their connection, and you might need to have a serious conversation with her about boundaries and her state of mind.

From: Help! My Wife Nearly Died in Childbirth. Now She’s Manipulating Me to Try for Another. (March 16, 2016).

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Dear Prudence,

I recently met a wonderful young woman. I am usually quite cautious, but, before I knew it, she was pregnant with my child. My family does not yet know about this. Complicating matters further, this woman happens to be a temporary U.S. resident. Most of my family are Trump supporters, and I’m afraid they will say this is an “anchor baby.” Should I keep this baby a secret?

—“Anchor Baby”

Look, even Strom Thurmond couldn’t keep his secret family a secret, and I’m willing to bet he had more resources and stronger motivations than you. Keeping your child a secret because some of your relatives are racist assholes is the wrong response to racism. You created this baby every bit as much as your “wonderful young woman” did. Getting pregnant isn’t something she did to you—it’s something the two of you did together. If your girlfriend(?) plans on carrying your baby to term, and you’re going to be an involved parent, a large part of parenting will necessarily involve not allowing your family members to refer to your child as a political football. If they can’t do that, then they don’t deserve to be a part of your family.

From: Help! My Husband Picks Up Hitchhikers and Is Going to Get Us All Killed. (April 19, 2016)

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Dear Prudence,
A friend died recently, much too young, leaving behind young children. She was a truly special person, a shining light. Upon hearing the news that she was ill, a woman in my extended social circle started posting extensively on Facebook about their friendship. I know that these two women absolutely despised each other. Each badmouthed the other extensively. My deceased friend had a beautiful spirit but was only human, and our mutual acquaintance is a terrible person. She is manipulative and nasty to the core. She has posted so many comments on friends’ Facebook pages, even people she doesn’t know, about our friend, always managing to make it about herself and how her death has affected her. She chimes in when people share memories, inserting herself in those as well. At every step, she is using the tragedy of our friend’s death to draw attention to herself. It is quite strange to watch and her behavior is making a lot of people angry. If I had control of my friend’s Facebook page I would unfriend this acquaintance and block her from making more posts, but I don’t. What is an appropriate response to this behavior?

—False Mourning

Ignore her as if ignoring her is your full-time job and you are getting paid overtime. You can’t block her from your friend’s memorial page, but you can unfriend her on your own behalf, and I think you should do so immediately. No good could come out of confronting her. All she would say is that you didn’t understand how truly close the two of them were, and I don’t think you’d ever get an honest answer out of her. Mute her on all social media platforms, keep your distance in person, and spend as little time with her as possible. Even if she weren’t using your friend’s recent death for self-aggrandizement, you already know her to be “nasty to the core.” You don’t have an obligation either to unmask or to humor her. Her behavior is so transparent, so obviously false, that she’s not fooling anyone; since you point out she’s making a lot of people angry, I don’t think you’ll be alone in removing her from your social circle. The less you have to do with this woman, the better off you’ll be.

From: Help! A Friend Beat His 2-Year-Old With a “Cloth” Belt for Not Sleeping. (Oct. 13, 2016)

Dear Prudence,

A few years ago I had a cosmetic procedure to improve the appearance of my breasts (they were uneven in size and shape). I had the procedure because I was really self-conscious about it. I don’t really regret my decision, and to be frank, half the time I forget I even had it done. A few nights ago, my boyfriend and I were watching a medical drama on TV where they were performing an operation, and he asked me if I have ever had any surgery. I instinctively said no but then realized that’s not true. I’m not sure whether to tell him now that I misspoke and have in fact had a procedure done, and not only that but the type of procedure that I had (which I know some people may judge as fickle and vain). I don’t think it’s a big deal at the moment since he doesn’t know and doesn’t seem to have noticed, but I know it will eventually come up in a few years if we decide to have kids or if other medical needs arise. Is it worth telling him now? If so, any tips for how to tell him?

—Secret Plastic Surgery

I think it’s entirely up to you. It sounds like this is something you did before you met him, so it’s not as if you have to come clean about that “vacation” you took without him a few years ago. It’s not the kind of revelation that would change the foundation of your relationship, so if you decide it’s something you’d rather keep private, it’s not something he necessarily needs to know.

If you do decide you want to share it with him, I think a straightforward approach is best. “When you first asked me if I’d ever had cosmetic surgery, I was taken by surprise, because I haven’t told many people, and I said I hadn’t because I felt self-conscious. But I trust you, and I wanted to let you know that a few years ago I had a cosmetic procedure done on my breasts.” Be honest, but don’t treat it like a huge, shameful disclosure that changes everything—he’ll likely pick up on your emotional cues. If he sees you talk about it comfortable and openly, odds are that he will too.

From: Help! Should I Force My Granddaughter to See the Nutcracker? (Nov. 23, 2015)

Dear Prudence,

My older son recently married his longtime partner. Their wedding was attended by 100-plus, and a good time was had by all. My sister and brother-in-law, who belong to a very rigid, judgmental church, refused to attend. Rather than politely declining, they found it necessary to send my son a hateful email, filled with vitriolic comments about the evils of homosexuality, and why they couldn’t be involved in such a travesty. Needless to say, they caused some hurt feelings.

Now my younger son has announced his engagement, and wedding plans are underway. Younger son has told me privately that my sister and BIL will not be invited to his wedding. He said that if they couldn’t celebrate my older son’s love, why should they be invited to celebrate his? While I can definitely see his point, I’m afraid excluding them will cause more hurt and resentment, and I’ve urged him to take the high road and invite them. So far he is standing firm, but his wedding isn’t until next year and things could change. I asked his fiancée if she agreed with his decision, and she said, “Mom, I think I should stay out of this one.” Should I let it go? If my younger son stands firm in his decision, should I let my sister and BIL know that they will not be invited and why? I’m already dreading the holidays because of the way they treated my older son and his husband, and I fear it’s all going to get worse before it gets better.

—Son’s Wedding

I think your younger son is taking the high road by standing up for his brother. Good for him. Your in-laws have already created plenty of hurt and resentment by emailing your older son about how evil his love for his husband is; I don’t think your younger son could add much to the pile of resentments that they haven’t already. It’s a pretty low bar to ask that the people attending your wedding have not sent vile, cruel, homophobic screeds to your siblings, and I think your son is perfectly right to ask all of his guests to clear said bar before they get to enjoy free food and drinks on his behalf.

From: Help! Is My Boyfriend’s Penchant for Wearing Lingerie More Than Cross-Dressing? (Nov. 1, 2016)

Dear Prudence,

My sister got a pug puppy for an early Christmas present and then refused to microchip, register, or puppy-proof the backyard (despite multiple successful escapes)! Lo and behold, the dog went missing a few weeks back, and my sister was done with the moping and gone to mistakenly accusing our neighbors of being dognappers. (Theirs was a girl.) My problem is that a family at my church has found a stray pug that matches my sister’s on the other side of town. The age, sex, and timing matches, but I am very hesitant to say anything. These people are good dog owners while my sister was anything but. I am the one who remembered to buy dog food and walked it when my sister was too tired. We are both college students, but I don’t want the responsibility for a pet that isn’t even mine again! For all her crocodile tears, my sister never cared for the puppy when it was uncomfortable or inconvenient for her. Can I just let this sleeping dog lie?

—Bad Pet Owner

I was not expecting, when I took this job, to find this many secret dognapping do-gooders in the world! Guys! If you get a dog, take care of your dog! You can just not have a dog if you don’t feel like taking care of one. It’s very easy to not have a dog. Just start out with no dogs and then carry on as usual.

Don’t say anything. It may not even be the same dog, and the only thing worse than returning this poor, neglected pup to your sister would be forcing some similar-looking dog into her indifferent embrace.

From: Help! A Lesbian Friend Wants My Partner to Impregnate Her the Old-Fashioned Way. (Dec. 21, 2015)

Catch up on last week’s Prudie.

More Advice From How to Do It

My spouse and I are just starting to date as a couple, and this will be the first time in my life meeting people for sex before developing a relationship with them. I have a severe life-threatening allergy to all nuts that leads to highly unsexy reactions to things like argan oil conditioners, macadamia hand creams, pistachio body butters, etc. I’m worried that saying, “If you ate nuts today, you’re only allowed to touch one of us” will kill the vibe and come across as creepy. On the other hand, I’m horrified of dying because a casual acquaintance forgot to disclose a hazelnut coffee before going down on me. During regular dating, it was never an issue, because I’d discuss my allergy at length during multiple dates and then have sex only after the person showed that they fully understood how dangerous it is. Casual sex doesn’t work that way. What’s the best way for me to protect that casual sex partner from the shock of having me swell up, choke up, and die after kissing them?