DEAR AMY: My husband passed away a few years ago from melanoma. He was 26. He was sick for three years, battling this vicious cancer, before his death. Even though I was somewhat prepared for his death, I was in a complete state of shock and could not function, let alone plan a funeral. My husband was so devoted to getting better that he would not speak of the possibility of dying. I wanted a simple funeral and cremation. His mother and stepmother wouldn't hear of it and "took care" of the funeral arrangements at a local funeral parlor. When I received the bill, it totaled over $20,000! Amy, my husband and I were together for seven years, but married for only six months (we decided to elope when his cancer returned). I asked his mothers if they were aware that the funeral they chose cost that much and they both responded that cost was not their priority. In the same conversation they both said that they couldn't afford to help with the payments. As sensitive a subject as this is, the reality is that I have hard feelings that they would be so inconsiderate when they know that we were a young couple and I was already swimming in medical bills. It is very hard to maintain a relationship knowing that they left me with this added stress. What do you think?

Young Widow in NY

DEAR YOUNG WIDOW: I think this is ... unfortunate, to say the least.

I can completely understand your late husband's two mothers' choice to give him the funeral of their dreams, but to then stick you with the burden of paying the bill they ran up is beyond the pale.

The first thing you should do is to carefully review the charges from the funeral home. The cost of your late husband's service was well over twice the cost of the average funeral. In my opinion, this amount is suspiciously high.

After that, you should try to rationally explore your options, including getting some of these charges reduced, persuading/pressuring your late-husband's mothers to share the cost with you, and — as a last resort, perhaps declaring bankruptcy.

All of these options will affect your relationship with these women, but your relationship was already compromised when they went against your wishes and then stuck you with the tab.

I hope that you can gradually get yourself out from under this so that you can grieve, heal and move forward.

DEAR AMY: My husband and I recently moved to a 55-and-over community. My husband is not very social. I have found that it isn't easy to make new friends now that I am older. I am not a drinker, and don't go to bars. It seems like it's a repeat of high school days, with exclusive cliques having formed. Do you have any suggestions of where else I can go to develop new friendships?


DEAR STRUGGLING: One upside of "55 and over" communities is that you are guaranteed to meet people in your age group. This is also the downside, in my opinion.

One reason high school can be such a social minefield is due to the overall lack of diversity. I'm referring here not only to racial and economic diversity, but — significantly— to age diversity.

My theory is that when hundreds of people at the same relative age and stage are in an enclosed social system, a sort of "law of the jungle" takes over. People form groups and then cling to them. Any newcomer is considered an outsider.

I can well imagine the challenge of trying to integrate into this sort of community, especially because you are married to a man who doesn't want to participate in your social life as a couple. You are flying solo, but without the advantages of actually being single.

Start your search for friends at the library. Libraries lately have become thriving hubs of community. As a volunteer, you would meet not only fellow volunteers and staffers, but you would intersect with a wide swath of humanity — from children to the elderly. This would keep you physically and intellectually engaged.

DEAR AMY: "Undecided" was wrestling with the eternal dilemma of choosing between career and children. She was feeling pressured by friends and family to choose children. I never want to live in a world where people are having children for other people.

Fanada in Canada

DEAR FANADA: Well said. Thank you.

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