Steel Advice: Be tactful in talks on headstone

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DEAR MARY ANN: I am from a family of five children. Our father died 14 years ago. He was in his 60s. Our mother is in her 70s and is very healthy. She's the linchpin of the family.

My father's grave has a small marker, but there is no monument. We have never had a family discussion on the topic of obtaining a gravesite monument for our father. I suspect part of the reason why is that typically such monuments include inscriptions for both husband and wife, and none of us wants to even think about losing our mother.

Is it OK to avoid thinking about this matter until we are forced to, or is the lack of a monument on our father's grave at this point disrespectful to his memory?


DEAR CONCERNED: When you broach the subject of purchasing a monument for your dad's gravesite, your mom will not be shocked or feel like you are sending her off to her eternal reward before her time.

The family may be relieved. Having the gravestone in place is one less thing to do, and it shows that after 14 years you are still thinking of your dad.

Even though headstones and cemetery plots are often purchased pre-need after the first spouse dies, not all families observe this pattern.

Test the waters with your mom and then follow her wishes. Your sensitivity makes you a thoughtful person, not the Grim Reaper.

DEAR MARY ANN: Every year for the holidays, my husband, two young children, and I split the time between my husband's family and mine. They all live at least an hour from us and in complete opposite directions to boot. I only see my family on holidays, but we see his family quite frequently. I think it shouldn't even be a question that we don't rush out of my family's gathering to drive to his.

When I brought this up to my husband's family last year, it was not met with an understanding attitude. (My family has also made it known they are irritated with us always being the first to leave.)

Am I being unreasonable? I am so tired of trying to please everyone, and it not working!


DEAR UGH: Bah Humbug! Trying to please two sets of tugging parents puts you in a vise that often backfires. Dilute the holiday stress by creating some new traditions. Holidays are an emotional minefield. Unrealistic expectations and artificial happiness lead to the point where nothing is enjoyable.

Share your thoughts about the holiday marathon madness with your husband when you are not exhausted or emotionally charged. He may see nothing wrong with the way things are now.

So proceed with a discussion that is not an explosion of pent-up anger. Be understanding but firm. It is time to stop running all over the countryside delivering packages. Park the sleigh! Establish boundaries for time shared with both sets of grandparents.

The new visiting order may cause some hurt feelings initially, but handled tactfully, your families will adapt.

Need some Steel Advice? Email questions to: or write to Mary Ann Wellener, Steel Advice Column, c/o Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. Follow Mary Ann on Twitter at @PGSteelAdvice.


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