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Before She Died, My Wife Kept a Diary. Why Won’t Her Cousin Let Me See It?

Before She Died, My Wife Kept a Diary. Why Won’t Her Cousin Let Me See It?

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My wife of 38 years died of ovarian cancer four years ago. We worked in different worlds: She was an anthropologist who traveled widely, and I was a physician in private practice. We had a loving marriage with the normal ups and downs. After we retired, we grew closer. Then came her cancer. We knew it would kill her, but we carried on doing the things she enjoyed until she passed away. I learned recently that my wife kept a diary. She gave it to her cousin, who maintains I am too fragile to read it. My wife is still part of me, and not to read her thoughts is deepening my grief. What should I do?

HUSBAND

I am sorry for your loss, and I wish I could ease your pain. But reading your wife’s diary is probably not the solution here. I don’t doubt it is frustrating to be denied access to her writing after only recently learning about it, but the diary is not the source of your grief. You are grieving the loss of your spouse of nearly four decades.

I may be wrong, but I imagine your wife gave the diary to her cousin to save you from reading hurtful (and utterly normal) entries about you or your relationship. Diaries are for venting! At the same time, her cousin’s assessment that you are “too fragile” seems irrelevant to me.

Ask about your wife’s instructions. If she told her cousin not to share the diary with you, respect her wishes. (I know that won’t be easy.) If there were no instructions, you may press to see it — though, given your wife’s actions, I hope you won’t. But that is your decision, not mine. If your grief is still debilitating after four years, talk to a therapist first.

I am 22 and starting a new job after I graduate from college in December. I just signed a lease on a tiny apartment. Previously, I’ve lived in dorms and student housing where people kept their doors open if they wanted to socialize. That doesn’t seem right in an apartment building. So, how should I make friends — bake cookies and knock on doors? Maybe invite neighbors on gallery walks? What do you think?

NEW NEIGHBOR

I love your enthusiasm! But here’s the thing: In student housing, all of your neighbors were enrolled in the same university and pursuing degrees there. That’s a lot to have in common — and probably more than you will share with the residents of your new apartment building. Temper your expectations (and yes, keep your door closed).

Sure, visit your nearest neighbors and introduce yourself. (Personally, I would not want cookies from a stranger.) If you feel sparks of connection, invite them for coffee. Keep in mind, though, that friendships with neighbors tend to deepen over time. We usually see them in passing. It may be easier to make new friends at work or through shared activities — like yoga classes or reading groups.

My sister travels frequently for work and always asks me to take care of her dog. I like the dog, but I work long hours and often go out in the evening. I don’t want to take care of it every time she’s away. I suggested she board the dog and even researched local kennels, but she refuses to do that. How can I say no without upsetting her?

BROTHER

Your sister’s dog is not your responsibility. She may still be upset with you for refusing to dogsit, though. That’s life! Don’t be bullied by fear of other people’s unreasonable reactions.

The next time you don’t want to take her dog, tell her: “I can’t. I’m busy at work, and I have plans in the evening.” Done. A parting thought: Your sister’s vet can probably recommend someone responsible to stay with the dog in your sister’s home. I do this frequently. It’s economical, and my dog has never seemed distressed (or complained about it).

My husband and I drove 1,000 miles to celebrate my 70th birthday with a dear old friend and her husband. When we arrived, I unpacked Champagne for a toast. My friend’s husband said it was off. It tasted fine to my friend and me, but her husband started ranting about it. He fought with my husband, then apologized — and then ranted some more. It was very odd. Finally, he said we had to leave his house (where we were supposed to stay). My friend said nothing. So, we left and found a hotel. My friend and I are trying to work through this difficult episode. But what should we expect of her husband?

FRIEND

Magic 8 Ball says: Nothing! Your friend’s husband may be extremely difficult or perhaps ill in some way your friend has not acknowledged to you (or herself). I’m sorry he ruined your birthday celebration, but the blessing of geographic distance here is that you can try to save your dear friendship at a safe remove from her husband. (Her situation may become clearer once she explains why she didn’t intercede during her husband’s tantrum.)


For help with your awkward situation, send a question to [email protected], to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.



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