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Posted on Wed, Feb 8, 2012 : 5 a.m.

Anniversary of death causes confusion of what to do

By Carolyn Hax

Hi, Carolyn:

My father-in-law died seven years ago yesterday. My mother-in-law called my husband first thing this morning, upset because she had not heard from him. I suspect no one called her. My husband said he didn't even realize yesterday was the day, and if he did, he would have been hesitant to call her for fear of upsetting her.

In our defense, neither of us is the type to commemorate a family member's death. They are far from forgotten, but personally I would prefer to remember the good days -- not the saddest day!

Do we really need to make the effort to remember? I feel she has made little effort to move forward after his death, and it almost feels like remembering would be akin to giving a drink to an alcoholic.

Please keep in mind, most of her five children speak to her weekly.

-- E.

I realize you object to guilt-tripping, rightly. But sometimes the issue isn't whether you're right, it's whether there's any value in being right.

> Plus, which day you prefer to remember is of zero relevance to someone else's grief.

His mom cares about this anniversary, so your husband can program his calendar, painlessly, to remind him to call Mom. Problem solved.

More important, problem not enabled: Failing to call in the past hasn't moved your mother-in-law "forward," right? So take that as permission to abandon any goals of behavior modification. If your husband has larger concerns about his mom, then he should pay attention to what she needs.

--0-- --0-- --0--

Dear Carolyn:

Sometimes when I run into someone I haven't seen for a while, their first comment will be something to the effect of, "Wow, you look great; I never would have recognized you!"

If I had recently drastically changed my hair, gained or lost significant weight, etc., this would be understandable; as it is, however, I'm getting the sense that it's their way of telling me, "You're normally so ugly I can't stand to look at you, but for some reason today I can look at you without losing my lunch!"

I've tried a smile and change of subject, and even said, "Well, I got tired of being ugly so I thought I'd try something different," which prompts them to tell me this wasn't what they meant, but I'm not sure I believe it.

What's the best way to respond the next time this sort of thing happens?

-- Ugly(?) Duckling

The best way to respond is, "Thank you."

I realize this doesn't scratch your itch to tell people off for their poor phrasing, nor does it solve the twin mysteries of how you used to look and why you now look so different.

However, everyone gets the occasional compli-slam, some of which will be purposeful -- but there is no polite way to make people pay for complimenting you, no matter how deeply you question their motives.

There's also no practical way to solve these mysteries, besides a mirror or a particularly honest friend. Fortunately, as compensation for these nagging disappointments, you have the fact that you look marvelous, and you don't even have to try.

Email Carolyn at tellme(at), follow her on Facebook at or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at

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