DEAR ABBY: During the 10 years I have been with my husband, I have called my mother-in-law "Martha." I have just learned that she has been harboring resentment about it because she hadn't given me "permission" to call her by her first name. Apparently she would like me to call her "Ms. Smith." I didn't hear it from her, but from my new sister-in-law who does call her Ms. Smith and has been instructed to continue doing so.
I don't remember our first meeting or when I started calling her Martha. I had no idea she has been offended this entire time. Now I'm not sure what to do. Should I ask her about it? We're not particularly close, and it would be an awkward conversation. My husband is no help. He thinks we're both being silly.
— THE OTHER MS. SMITH
DEAR O.M.S.: Martha appears to be not only off-putting, but also intimidating. Rather than speak her mind and make her preferences known, she nurses grievances in silence and talks behind people's backs. Your cowardly husband should admit there's a problem and try to build bridges instead of dismissing your concerns as "silly." (Does he call her "Ms. Smith," too?)
Pick up the phone and call Martha. Tell her what your sister-in-law said and calmly ask if it's true. If she says yes, ask why she didn't tell you herself years ago — because if she had, you would have respected her wishes. Then, with a smile in your voice, assure her that "Ms. Smith" is what she'll be hearing in the future. (At least that's what you'll call her to her face.) It shouldn't cause a problem because you're not particularly close, and I assume your chats and contacts with her are infrequent.
DEAR ABBY: My husband and I have been happily married for 16 years. We have one son, age 12. While writing our wills, my husband told me that his wish is to be cremated and his ashes scattered in the ocean off the beach near where he grew up.
I'd like us to be together after we have both passed on, but his beach holds no fond memories for me. I would much prefer to be buried in our local cemetery with a headstone so our son can come to "visit" both of us. I don't want to spend eternity in a cemetery plot without my husband. Any suggestions?
— PLANNING AHEAD IN MASSACHUSETTS
DEAR PLANNING AHEAD: Yes, one would be that you and your spouse continue talking about this until you can reach a meeting of the minds regarding the disposition of your remains. If you can't agree, then what happens to them will be the decision of the surviving spouse.
Another thought: You are basing your preference on what your son may — or may not — want to do after he reaches adulthood. While many people find comfort in visiting their parents' graves, others find the idea depressive. Also, your son may wind up with a career that takes him to Texas, California, Hawaii or even farther away from the town in which he is being raised.
DEAR ABBY: What is the proper letter salutation for a married couple where the husband has recently undergone gender reassignment surgery? (They were "John and Millie Jones.") — WONDERING IN KEY WEST
DEAR WONDERING: Because the husband is no longer John Jones and is now "Linda," for example, I would address the envelope to Ms. Linda Jones and Ms. Millie Jones — placing their names in alphabetical order. And in the salutation I would write, "Dear Linda and Millie."
Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.