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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I would like to address funeral etiquette. I'm aware of how times have changed, but certain manners and traditions should continue.

When my parents died, generous friends and neighbors brought food to my family's home for all of us to share. They came and sat with us; we ate and shared comforting stories.

My husband died eight years ago. Again, I was blessed with neighbors and military friends bringing food and prepared meals.

Recently, a friend's father passed away. I knew I couldn't attend the funeral because they live thousands of miles away -- so I ordered a ham to be delivered to their home.

My friend and her family haven't stopped thanking me. I was later told that relatives arrived empty-handed. No one brought food, nor did they make an effort to go to a store to purchase any! They expected to be fed and waited on. I am so upset knowing these lazy relatives did nothing to help the widow and children.

It's terrible that people today don't think about the needs of the grieving family. -- UPSET IN OCEANSIDE, CALIF.

DEAR UPSET: Funeral traditions vary among religious and ethnic groups, not to mention geographic areas of the country. Sometimes it is expected that the family of the deceased will provide food for mourners who come to express their condolences. Sometimes fellow church members provide food. In many cases, food is brought to the grieving family by compassionate friends who realize there may be little time to prepare meals in the midst of funeral preparations.

However, your reminder is a good one. It expresses compassion and concern for people in their time of sorrow. Better to have too much comfort food on hand than too little.

DEAR ABBY: When my nieces were small, their young mother couldn't care for them. She left them with their grandmother for a number of years while she prepared to be a full-time mom. My husband and I developed a close relationship with the girls while they lived with Grandma. Today, the girls live with their mommy and her new, and very kind, husband.

Unfortunately, Mommy is a chronic -- if not pathological -- liar. Every time we chat with the girls, they innocently repeat another of their mother's outrageous lies. Normally I say nothing. But the other day, "Sheila," the younger girl, told me she was mad at Grandma for having taken Mommy to court to get custody of them. I told Sheila she was mistaken; Grandma never took Mommy to court. But Sheila insisted it was true, because Mommy said so. It's not the first time Mommy has told the kids a story that makes Grandma look like "the bad guy."

My husband says the kids will eventually catch on to Mommy's lying, and I should keep quiet. However, I hate to let the kids believe this hateful lie and remain angry with Grandma. She is elderly and may not be around by the time the truth comes out.

What should I say or do when the girls talk about "the custody battle" or any other lies making Grandma look bad? -- BITING MY TONGUE IN CALIFORNIA

DEAR BITING: Don't pit the children against their mother, but do correct them by explaining that Mommy is "mistaken."

Later, when they find out that Mommy can't be trusted, they will know they can talk to you when they need to hear the truth.

P.S. Consider talking privately with their mother and explaining how hurtful and destructive her remarks are to family unity. If she's having trouble handling her guilt for past behavior, she should consult a professional rather than lie to her children.

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