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Feeling relief, not grief, about her beloved father’s death |
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Feeling relief, not grief, about her beloved father’s death

Carolyn Hax
| Thursday, January 24, 2019 1:30 a.m

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

It was the 15th anniversary of my dad’s death recently. I know it should have been a day marked by profound grief, but instead the primary feeling I had was … relief.

This sentiment would have been easier to accept if he had been a monster, but he was an absolutely wonderful man and deeply devoted father whom I adored, and still do.

But the truth is that his death happening when it did — I was in college at the time — forced me to really grow and change in ways I doubt I would have experienced had he not passed. The first several years were excruciating … but it was those hardships that played an instrumental role in shaping the (not perfect but) independent and relatively strong woman I am today. I am weirdly grateful now for the experience.

Is this wrong? Selfish? I felt so sad to realize I don’t miss him as deeply as I probably should. “The good is oft interred with their bones. … ” Thanks so much.

— Bonehead

No, you are not getting love and feelings all wrong.

And “should” is a lousy word.

You can love your father and still recognize that you made good fortune out of bad. Harboring these thoughts doesn’t make you a monster or a bonehead. I miss my mom but I don’t miss who I was before she got sick.

Please feel free to celebrate, without shame, the human ability to inhabit a complex moral and emotional space.

Hi, Carolyn:

I am invited to a wedding in a few weeks and can’t wait: I am so happy for the couple and so excited for the event. The invitation specifies “no gifts.” I tend to think that means, “Seriously, no gifts,” but I also don’t want to be the only person who doesn’t bring a gift if what you’re REALLY supposed to do is just give something homemade, or super meaningful, or small but sentimental, or whatever. Does “no gifts” really mean no gifts?

— Anonymous

You’re not supposed to bring gifts to the wedding itself anyway, and that means people who ignore the request and give a gift will still arrive empty-handed. So, go empty-handed.

Afterward send a thoughtful note about what a good time you had, how grateful you were to be included, and how happy you are for them both.

As for what marrying couples and guests are REALLY supposed to do, it’s this, always:

The couple isn’t supposed to expect a gift of any kind, because that expectation is rude … and in fact saying “no gifts” is an etiquette “don’t” because it acknowledges that gifts are expected, but I don’t fault anyone who declares it anyway as a kindness to guests; and guests are supposed to send whatever gift they deem appropriate if in fact they want to give a gift. They don’t have to.

Think about it, too: If the couple said no gifts, then they either don’t want gifts — in which case you don’t want to get them a gift — or they want to look like they want no gifts and really secretly expect everyone to get them gifts anyway — in which case you really don’t want to get them a gift. Right?

Email Carolyn at, follow her on Facebook at or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at

Email Carolyn at, follow her on Facebook or chat with her online at noon each Friday at

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