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My Brother Hasn’t Buried Our Mother’s Ashes Yet, and I’m Mad

My mother died in June and was cremated, as provided in her will. For practical reasons, my brother took possession of her ashes. Now it’s March, and he hasn’t done a single thing about burying her ashes beside my father’s, as she requested. When I reminded him, he got defensive and changed the subject.

My brother had a difficult relationship with my mother, as he does with me. Since her death, he has focused on dividing her assets and readying her home for sale. His behavior upsets me greatly. I find it unconscionable! Admittedly, burying ashes in another state presents logistical issues, but my mother left money for burial. The only concession I’ll make is that he works full time and I’m retired (though he managed to take a week of vacation). Your thoughts?

GRIEVING DAUGHTER

I’m sorry for your loss. I’m also sorry for your brother’s loss. I think you are mistaken, though, if you suppose his grief is diminished because he had a difficult relationship with your mother. Complicated connections can often lead to more punishing sorrow.

I am also struck by the unfair division of labor here. You say it was “practical” for your brother to take your mother’s ashes. Has it also been practical for him to manage her assets and the sale of her home single-handedly, while you stand by nursing grievances? If you aren’t satisfied with your brother’s pace, pitch in.

If we’ve learned anything during the pandemic, it’s that many tasks can be accomplished remotely. Call the funeral home director, arrange for shipment (or pickup) of the ashes and schedule the burial. If you and your brother want to attend, work out a date. If he still avoids the subject, proceed on your own. (And skip the petty cracks about working people taking time off, OK?)

Credit…Christoph Niemann

My husband and I have a modest income and retirement savings, but not much cash. This spring, our only child will graduate from college. He lives at home and received generous financial aid, so he has only $6,000 in low-interest debt. (We paid his tuition.) The issue: How to spend our next stimulus check? My son and I want to use the money for ligament surgery for our middle-age pit bull. (The dog is in chronic pain.) My husband wants to use the money to pay off a car loan and give the rest to our son as a graduation gift. Help!

MOM

Well, since you’ve omitted the price tags of the surgery and the car loan (and I’m not a veterinarian), let’s discuss process and values, instead. Convene a family meeting to discuss the allocation of the stimulus check. Many times, efforts to ensure that everyone feels heard and respected are more important than perfect agreement.

Theoretically, your son will agree to forego a cash gift. He wants to help the dog. As between easing the pain of a family pet and paying off a car loan, that would be an easy call for me. (But I’m not part of your family!) If you decide to do both and the stimulus check is not sufficient, take care to preserve lower-interest loans over incurring high-interest, credit card debt.

My friend finally divorced her husband after years of complaining about him. After the divorce was final, my husband set up his single cousin with my friend’s ex. I figured since she was happy to be rid of him, she wouldn’t care. Wrong! She told me she was disappointed I didn’t ask her permission. I haven’t apologized because I don’t think I did anything wrong. Now my friend isn’t talking to me. Who’s right?

DOLLY

Have you ever had an ex? For many of us, they trigger ambivalent feelings, even if we’re relieved to put them behind us. It may not be strictly logical for your friend to resent you and your husband for setting up the man with whom she was (mostly) unhappy, but it doesn’t surprise me either.

What’s more startling here is your willingness to alienate a friend by refusing to apologize for accidentally hurting her feelings. That kind of inflexibility can be more damaging to relationships than the underlying harm. Why not say: “I didn’t know it would hurt you, but I’m sorry we did.”

My husband and I got married four years ago. We sent thank-you notes to half our guests, then ran out of steam. There was no rhyme or reason for those who got notes or didn’t, and we have no excuse. We feel guilty about this, and we know it was inconsiderate. Is it too weird to send the rest of the thank-you notes now, or should we let ourselves off the hook at this point?

ANONYMOUS

You are really testing the limits of “better late than never”! But I would send the remaining notes. People are more likely to chuckle and appreciate them than to resent your delay. As for the text of the notes, you hit the high points in your letter: so sorry, no excuse, really grateful for your lovely gift. Now, get them done!


For help with your awkward situation, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com, to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.

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