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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Although I read your column daily, I have never had a reason to write until now. I read the obituaries and have noticed that lately there are female pallbearers listed. Is this proper, or should it be a man's role? I always thought that men were supposed to do it. I'm sure other people wonder about this, too. -- VICKI IN JOPLIN, MO.

DEAR VICKI: In the days when coffins were actually carried, it required strong men to lift them. However, today the coffin is placed on a church "truck," and it's perfectly acceptable for women to be pallbearers.

In early America, it was the women who cared for the dead. It was they who bathed and shrouded the body for burial. In a sense, women are now taking their rightful place again by acting as pallbearers. It is much better when family members of both sexes physically participate in funerals. Doing so can be therapeutic. Twenty years ago morticians were mostly men. Today, 40 percent of graduating morticians are women, according to the Funeral Consumers Alliance. Instead of being ghoulish, the business is becoming "girlish."

DEAR ABBY: My husband of almost 25 years presented me with a beautiful diamond heart necklace for Valentine's Day. Now I am trying to decide if I should keep it.

Several years ago, he had a "female friend." One of the things that hurt most was finding out that he had bought her expensive jewelry. Among the items was a diamond heart pendant.

When I opened the gift, all I could think about was her. Should I explain to him that, although the necklace is very beautiful, it brings back painful memories? Are men really this dense? -- CRYING IN CALIFORNIA

DEAR CRYING: Apparently your man is. Dry your tears and tell him, as tactfully as possible, that while you are grateful for the gift, his selection has painful associations for you. The two of you should return it and select something more appropriate.

DEAR ABBY: I am a professional woman marrying another professional woman. We have lived together for two years and are able to communicate very well. We are growing and changing beautifully as partners.

Because it is not legal in the state where we live, we will be going to Vermont for a private ceremony. My question: How do we approach the wedding reception with those family members who are not "comfortable" with it? We don't want anyone to feel slighted, but at the same time, we don't want to deprive those members of the family who offer support and take joy in our union. Do we invite everyone and just see who shows up? -- NEEDS TO KNOW

DEAR NEEDS TO KNOW: Send invitations to everyone you would like to have at your reception, including those who are not comfortable with your union. If they don't wish to attend, they will decline. You already know some of them will not welcome this marriage, but extending the invitation will show them that you want to encourage close family relationships. And you may be surprised that some of them may put aside their misgivings in the interests of family unity.

Abby shares her favorite recipes in a two-booklet set. To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $7.90 per set ($9 per set in Canada) to: Dear Abby Cookbooklet Set, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)

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