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Denial (9/20/06)

Dear Zelda,

Day after day I continue to walk on eggshells, anxious not to rock the boat and really focus on what I feel in my marriage. I have a wonderful husband. Everyone tells me so!  But, after 25 years of marriage I want to experience a more adventurous life. He's happy coming home from work and turning on a football game to relax. I need so much more.   My friends tell me I'm married to a saint (and in so many ways I am). I keep telling myself to relax and be happy with what I've got. After all, 50 is the new 30. Zelda, why don't I feel it?

Walking On Eggshells  

Dear Walking On Eggshells,

"De-Nile" appears to be the river running straight through your marriage, and it's probably time for you to look for a little dry ground before the waters rise even further. You say that everyone TELLS you that your husband's great, and they TELL you that you're married to a saint, but how do YOU feel? Clearly you're not getting what you need out of the relationship right now.  Yet, you're feeling pressure to conform to everyone else's expectations, all the while daydreaming of the life you ought to be living. But before you sell all your possessions and head for the hills, I'd suggest that you take time to think long and hard about why you're feeling so restless right now: while you say you'd like more adventure, it sounds like you'd also basically like to change the nature of your relationship with your husband. If De-Nile is a river, then you've clogged the river with all those unbroken eggshells. When too many unbroken eggshells pile up, De-Nile begins to stagnate and build up pressure. I'd say it’s time to break some eggshells.

The only way this situation is going to improve is if you have the courage to talk with your husband about your concerns over your marriage. Who knows, maybe he comes home and turns on the football game because he's bored too! When you're first married there is something magic about the relationship, and after a few decades it's natural for things to cool down a bit. After 25 years, responsibilities and 'life' can weigh heavily, and routine, as they say, routs romance. Does this mean you don't love each other? No! It means things have gotten a little off track over the years, and when that happens, you need to stop, be open with each other about your feelings and your concerns, and have an honest talk about the lack of "adventure" in your lives. Your husband may be reluctant to rock the boat himself, so you'll have to be willing to let him know how serious this is to you, and that things NEED to change. But it doesn't have to be so difficult.  Try and think together about what will put the zing back in your marriage. Make a list of things that excite the two of you, and then do them. Trips to Timbuktu, bungee jumping in Australia, or just taking a cooking class together... your list can and should be long. If you're having trouble breaking through with these simple activities, you might think of going to see a marriage councilor to help get the discussions rolling.

It sounds to me like you do love your husband, but need things to change pretty dramatically in order for you to be happy. Your friends refer to your husband as a saint, and if he is, he'll want to do the right thing and will be willing to work hard to make your marriage work. But in order to do so, you need to talk to him openly and honestly, and don't be afraid to tell him the simple truth... you're not happy right now. A good man is hard to find, and you don't want to lose him just because you're afraid to rock the boat. Better to be the captain of your ship and control the course ahead. Here's to smooth sailing!

Zelda

Dear Zelda,

I'm worried about my dad. He is in his seventies and after my mother died he started smoking. He tells us that it relaxes him and that he can stop smoking any time. My concern is that he always has a cigarette in his mouth and it seems he can't live without one. He knows smoking isn't good for him, but he denies the dangers. Any suggestions?

No Smoking Allowed

Dear No Smoking Allowed,

Your father has had to deal with the tragic loss of his wife and your mother, and unfortunately it sounds like smoking is one of his means of coping. The bad news is that smoking, even for short periods, can be dangerous, and even worse, his smoking can definitely harm those around him. You are in a tough position, and apparently he isn't ready to listen to you or to quit. Instead, I'd suggest you focus your energy on getting him to reduce his smoking as much as possible, understanding what his smoking may tell you about his underlying emotional state, and getting him not to smoke around others.

Your dad is probably somewhat depressed, and the nicotine provided by his cigarettes helps him get through the day. While many people are reluctant to talk about depression, it may be worth trying to broach the subject gently with him and see if there's anything he wants to talk about, or even getting him to talk with a professional if he's willing. There is a possibility that he has lost some of his desire to live; if so, telling him that smoking could shorten his life may not make a difference. Either way, the most important thing you do may not be getting him to stop smoking, but getting him to come to terms with the some of the underlying issues that his smoking represents.

However, he does need to be made aware of the awful effects second-hand smoke has on others. He isn't the only person who could suffer: according to the American Lung Association, 20% of the population is at risk of developing lung disease from second-hand smoke. The old saying that if you smoke, your family smokes, is unfortunately true. When your father is smoking, remind him that his smoking goes beyond his lungs to the lungs of his friends and family members. The New England Journal of Medicine reported that children and infants living with smokers have increased incidence of ear infections, bronchitis, and asthma. Your dad may be as stubborn as a bulldog, but as long as he continues smoking he needs to confine his smoking outside and away from others.

There's only one way for your father to quit or even reduce his smoking. He has to want to quit. When your father decides he's finally ready to kick the habit there is help available. The nicotine patches and gums have proven very successful, and there are also books that can help him learn how to quit smoking. Life Changes by Dr. David L. and Carole A Johnson, both former addicted smokers, is an excellent resource with several suggested options for curing one’s addiction to nicotine.

Your father may deny the dangers of smoking, but the statistics don't support his arguments. Although he started late in life, smoking for even a few years, greatly increases your chance of lung cancer, emphysema, and even circulation problems like strokes and heart attacks! While it's the cigarette that does the smoking, unfortunately your dad is the sucker. Be patient, be loving, but be strong in trying to convince him to conquer his compulsion. Encourage your dad that it's time to kick those nasty "butts" out of his life.

Zelda

Dear Zelda,

Today I just lost my seven-year-old English Bulldog.  How do I cope with all the memories?  He was the only child my husband and I had together. He was like a son. I have not lost someone this close to me in years. How do I cope?

Alone

Dear Alone,

I'm so sorry to hear about of the loss of your beloved bulldog. Nothing prepares you for it. Someone once said that in this world there isn't anything certain except death, taxes, and the devotion of your dog. The one absolutely unselfish friend you have in your life is your dog. Whether you are rich or poor, young or old, thin or fat, we dogs don't care. The loss of your dog is the loss of a very close family member.  I'm getting up in years myself, and I know that when I'm no longer here my owner will be heartbroken. Fortunately I know that with Zoe and ZeeZee in the family, there will still be bullies around to take care of her. Any way you slice it, coping with the loss of your dog is never easy.

You asked how you cope with all the memories, and I think the best way to cope with them is to treasure them, take care of them, and treat them as your dog's living legacy. No one can take memories away from you. Neither hurricanes, nor earthquakes, nor natural disasters can destroy the wonderful memories you have of coming home to a tail-wagging welcome or waking up to a good morning lick. Perhaps you should take time to make a memory scrapbook: pull out old photos of your dog, and write little notes and memories to accompany each one. You'll cry, but that's not a bad thing, and you've probably done a lot of that already. It's a natural way to release the pain and ease the anguish you are feeling. Keep your dog's collar close and in a place where you will be reminded of him. Perhaps you can place a memorial stone or plaque in your yard.

The grieving process classically goes through several phases: denial, anger and guilt, and depression. Recovery is the final stage. You've reached the recovery phase when you can come to terms with your loss. When you feel ready, you might want to make a donation, in your dog's memory, to a worthwhile animal-related cause.

Remember that we dogs are angels in disguise. Your dog isn't with you now, but it sounds like he left an abundance of loving memories with all those who met him. Pass along that love to others and it will make them as happy as your dog made you.

Time is usually the biggest healer for a grieving dog owner. When the time is right, you'll be ready to bring a new puppy back to your home. Trust me: your dog would want you to do that. Angels understand the need for love, and that's why we arrive dressed up as dogs. Love doesn't need to stop with the loss of one person or one animal. What the world needs is more infectious canine and human love. Your beloved dog has left his paw prints on your heart... remember him fondly and be happy that he was your designated angel. Wags and kisses,

Zelda