Dear Miriam

My father passed away late last year, so we as a family are coming to the stage where we need to organise his headstone. The issue is this; as well as farming, my father was big into greyhounds all of his life and my two brothers believe that we should include an etching of a dog in full flight on the headstone to reflect this passion.

I’m not in favour of it though and neither is my mother; who will be remembered on the same headstone one day too, though we hope she will have many more healthy and happy years with us yet.

I understand where my brothers are coming from and that they mean well, but I think we could regret it in a few years and that it’s better to keep these things simple. I don’t want to fall out over it though. What do you think we should do?

Anne, Leinster

Dear Anne,

Thank you for your letter and my condolences on the loss of your father. I can appreciate why your brothers would like the headstone to reflect a little bit of his personality, but unless the whole family is on board with the plan – and your mother in particular – I think you are right to try to keep things simple.

There might be a way around it, however. Often, I’ve seen graves that have an additional plaque or hand-painted slate or little statue placed on the gravel part – ie where you would usually place a wreath or a lantern – and these can be quite tasteful if they are designed well. More importantly, they are not permanent fixtures and can be removed or replaced very easily if they age or become a bit dated-looking.

Perhaps that could be one way of reaching a compromise with your brothers: to keep the headstone itself very simple and classic, but to include an item that still reflects your father’s passion for his dogs? That might be the fairest way to appease the whole family.

I hope that this might be someway helpful and thank you again for getting in touch.

‘How should I deal with my friend’s thoughtless Christmas presents?’

Dear Miriam,

This might sound like such a ridiculous problem to be writing in about, but I’d appreciate your thoughts if you have the time to read my email.

I always enjoy choosing Christmas presents for family and friends. I might not necessarily spend a lot of money on these items, but I do make a big effort to make sure it’s something I know that they will appreciate or find useful.

I have one particular friend, however, who really just buys any old thing for the sake of it; I’d say mostly in those “three for the price of two” offers you see advertised. Half the time I end up giving these gifts to the charity shop. It’s just a waste. I’d honestly be happier if she just bought me my favourite bar of chocolate! It would mean more than some bath bomb set that I can’t even use (we only have a shower!)

I know it might sound petty, but it’s how I feel. What do you think I should do?

Claire, Munster

Dear Claire,

Some people love the whole ritual of choosing gifts; for others, it’s a pain in the proverbial!

Rather than going on about how it’s the thought that counts, however, how about this: why not suggest to your friend that instead of doing gifts this year, you will go for a nice lunch or coffee and cake together whenever it is safe to do so in the new year, depending on the COVID-19 restrictions?

That way, there is no waste or simmering resentment and you both get to spend quality time together, which – at the risk of sounding like Tiny Tim from A Christmas Carol – is really the best gift of all.

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