Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.
DEAR AMY: Very late in life, after marriage to an executive (now deceased) whose career always came first, I married a wonderful man who loved his first wife very much -- so much that he would have died for her. She was his soul mate. My husband and I are very much in love and desperately want to enjoy our few remaining years together. Early in our courtship he gave me a tiny gold heart that I wore night and day until I learned he had given the same necklace to his wife. When asked why he gave me the same thing, he said, "Because (first wife) liked hers." He has told me that I am his "everything" and that I am "the best thing that ever happened to him" -- phrases that meant so much to me until I learned he'd also said them to his first wife. He once likened me to an opal with many facets. Today I learned that he spoke of his first wife with the same imagery. These phrases were so precious to me and now they mean nothing. Counseling has been unsuccessful and both counselors (men) said the problem was mine. I don't want to go through that again. How can I get over feeling so terribly "second"? And how can I bury this "ghost of marriage past"?
DEAR BROKENHEARTED: If you bring the same problem to two dispassionate professionals and both offer the same reaction, then you should not blame their gender -- or shop for a third opinion. You should assume that they're on to something.
Furthermore, I agree with them. Without a doubt, your husband made a boneheaded blunder regarding his gift to you. But -- can you forgive him for loving you as much as he loved his first wife? Think of the heart necklace as a metaphor. Your husband loves you so much that he is giving you the same heart (his heart) that he gave to her.
You two should start some new traditions. Go somewhere together where neither of you has ever been. Give him time to settle in to creating a unique marital experience with you. And, if you can manage to forgive him for his mistakes and bury your own resentment toward him, you will find that the ghost of his former wife will gradually fade.
DEAR AMY: A neighbor woman recently lost her father to cancer. She sent an email informing the neighbors of his passing. I replied with a message of condolence. About a week later she posted a message on Facebook letting her wider circle of friends know about her father's passing. I wanted to acknowledge the posting, so I wrote a message of condolence again. A few of the neighbors decided to go together to get the family a fruit basket. My family was included and our name included on the sympathy card that accompanied the basket. I'm "old school" enough to want to send a card from just my family, but I don't want to risk overdoing it. With today's social media, is there a new protocol for sending condolences? Is it still appropriate to send a note independent from a group gift? When is enough enough?
DEAR OLD SCHOOL: I think it's entirely appropriate to respond with sympathy in each medium the grieving family uses to announce the death. Granted, it can be challenging to come up with fresh ways to express this, but a simple, "Thinking of you" can boost a heavy heart.
I also suggest a phone call (or a neighborly knock on the door) in a week or so to offer your support in person.
DEAR AMY: I just finished a session with my teenage son's therapist. As the one-year mark of his suicide attempt approaches, we discussed the extra support he needs as he works through this anniversary. "Ripped-Off Mom's" concern over her child not receiving her due in terms of birthday gifts was certainly the comic relief I needed as I help my son cope with his clinical depression.
Life Provides Perspective
DEAR PERSPECTIVE: This is an anniversary to celebrate. Thank you for providing this perspective.