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Annie's Mailbox

Ask Amy column

Q. My husband has been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. His prognosis is not good. We have young children, and this has turned our world upside down. We’ve worked hard to keep things as normal as possible for our kids: We go to their concerts, sporting events, and school events. At these events we try to forget the painful things and enjoy the moment.

I know people are well-meaning, but I am struggling with how to answer questions, especially those asked while I am with my kids or at their functions. These inquiries usually come from “fringe friends” (versus my closest friends).

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Some questions have been downright rude (asking about our financial situation or for more details of my husband’s symptoms and treatment). Others, I’m sure, come from a place of caring. However, when people ask, “How are your kids dealing with this?” and “How are you doing?” I really don’t know what to say. I’m a pretty open person, and we have an online site to keep people informed of my husband’s health.

But there are aspects of this journey that are personal. My children’s suffering is not for public consumption. Also, I will not compromise my husband’s dignity by sharing too much of what he deals with. I don’t know how to answer these questions without being rude. Of course I’m not “fine,” but I certainly don’t want to get into how difficult this battle is during one of my children’s events. What’s the best way to handle these questions?

A. My sympathy is with you and your family. I realize this is really tough, and these queries seem intrusive, but it is unreasonable to blame people for asking how your children are.

You are at a very tender part of your family’s journey and may not realize how easily you could respond to these social queries. All you need to say is, “The kids are OK; you’re sweet to ask. How are yours doing?”

Your family’s private and painful situation is not the business of people on the outer circles of your acquaintance. However, some of these questions are not intended to get you to open up about your painful experience, but to register that people are thinking about you. Think of these as statements of support rather than intrusive questions, and respond simply. Then move on.

Unless people have walked in your shoes, they will not realize how desperately you need a relief from your sadness, and that sometimes the kindest thing is to ignore the elephant in the soccer stands and enjoy the sunshine and the game.

Q. We are a large Italian family and have been invited to our nephew’s wedding. It will take place at their church, followed by a “dessert reception.” The family and the church members are all invited to the reception. Our question is, since it is not the traditional evening reception with cocktails and dinner, what would be the appropriate gift to give, under the circumstances?

A. I have news for you: A church wedding with a cake reception is a traditional wedding, and I (for one) wish this style of celebration would come back into vogue.

You should give the couple whatever wedding gift you would have given them if they had hosted an evening reception with drinks, dinner, and dancing. If you’re stuck for ideas, see if the couple is registered anywhere.

Send questions via e-mail to askamy@tribune.com or by mail to Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611.
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