THE DIFFERENCE between the answers by men and women has never been so clear as in the responses to last week's problem: What should you do if Alice, a woman friend your late mother had grown to dislike, has helped your father through his grief, and then, to his delight, composed a dreadful sentimental poem to put on your mother's gravestone - one you feel would make her turn in her grave.

In other words, should you defer to your father at the cost of aggravating your own grief?

On the whole, the men were extremely sensible and unemotional. Putting himself in the position of a son, David Allardice of Ealing saw it this way: 'Unfortunately, my mother died. I loved her very dearly and when she was alive there is no way I would do anything to hurt her. However, she is now dead. My father is alive and has to rebuild his life. He is now the most important person to care for.

'I loathe the idea of the stone. I know my mother would have hated it and I'm sorry the stone may not be to her taste. But my mother is not going to see the stone and will never know about it. I will remember my mother in the way I choose to remember her, for her views, opinions and love. Having some corny rhyme on her stone won't change who she was.'

With a stiff upper lip, Graham Ness from Leeds echoed David Allardice's feelings, with a similar bald statement: 'My mother is dead. She can't turn in her grave, because she's dead. My main concern is the long-term happiness of my father and my continuing relationship with him.'

Similarly, Tom Adair of Oxford, lip like concrete: 'Mother is dead and buried,' he wrote. 'Only one thing should be remembered about the predicament - the father occupies the position of authority and decision-making. It is his wife who has died and he (presumably) knew her better than anyone else.' Intervene slightly, he suggests, but 'the intervention of a son or daughter in what is essentially the father's affairs should not extend beyond gentle suggestion.'

The fact that getting the wording on the stone right would mean as much to the children as the widower didn't seem to be the issue. Or perhaps partners do mourn most? Certainly, those who are left behind mourn differently - and they each mourn a different side of the deceased, making joint celebrations of grief extra complicated.

Carol Bloomfield of London SW1 was having none of this sensible stuff. 'Act out a hysterical, grief-stricken outburst - over the phone if you can't do it face to face - and produce the line or two that your mother had asked for . . . (well, she would have, had you asked wouldn't she?). A sobbing son or daughter will surely carry the day in this situation, and when the situation calms down the father will certainly be grateful for the few simple words on his wife's tombstone.'

Why this outburst should have to be 'acted out' I don't know. I would have thought it would come all too naturally. But perhaps it would not be a very mature way of behaving.

Jean Summers of Essex, who contributed last week, suggested a more adult, if somewhat monetary, solution. 'Plead a sudden shortage of funds,' she wrote. 'Contribute less money to the gravestone but contribute something, saying to yourself: 'This is for you, Dad, for your peace, for your consolation, to help you through this.' With the remainder of the money, make a donation in your mother's memory to her favourite cause (no doubt a practical, down-to-earth one), saying to yourself, and her: 'This one's for you, Mum, for the person I knew you to be'.'

But, except for Mary Scanlan Smith of St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex, who suggested a packet of nasturtium seeds to 'obliterate the horrendous inscription by a riot of real flowers - mother will be chuckling', the women were pretty determined to get their own way, with practical - devious, even - ideas to delay decision-making.

June Parrington of Settle, North Yorkshire suggested writing a letter like this: ' 'What a lovely idea, Dad. But it takes two years for the soil to settle, so it would be best to have the stone carved nearer the time so that it doesn't look worn'. And meanwhile, the family can make sure the grave doesn't look neglected by taking fresh flowers there every week.' In two years perhaps a better epitaph could be worked out.

The Rev June Simpson from Worksop, Nottinghamshire came up with the very practical idea of approaching the incumbent of the parish in whose churchyard the mother was buried. 'I can assure you that the diocesan regulations would simply not permit a wordy, dubious poem such as you quote to be put on a stone,' she wrote.

I was rather shocked at the number of people who simply suggested re-writing history. 'Regarding the problem, I would 'recall' that mother had humanist leanings and you remember that she had underlined a passage in a book which she thought would be a fitting epitaph,' wrote Peter Mellish of Stroud, Gloucestershire. 'Then, find a more suitable passage, underline it, and depending on yours, or others', ability to forge your mother's handwriting, put something conclusive in the margin. Then it is a matter of 'finding' and giving your father the book.'

However, Armorel Young from Nottingham has this week's best solution by far - an idea that will keep everybody happy. 'Suggest tactfully to your father that something more in keeping with your mother's temperament and wishes would be more appropriate. You are going to have to come up with a suitable design and epitaph of your own to put to him, and if at all possible enlist the support of your various siblings, explaining to them the importance of their involvement. The deceased was, after all, their mother as well as your father's wife, and a proposal that comes from all of you jointly should carry some weight.'

But rightly, like Anne Innes of Malmesbury, Wiltshire, she does not ignore Alice's feelings, which will have to be carefully handled. 'How about suggesting that her talents be used to produce and illustrate a booklet of poems in memory of your mother (perhaps to be sold in aid of charity) that will make her work available to distant relatives who cannot visit the grave?'

PS: Last week I said that if Vanessa Dunmore, a regular - and excellent - contributor, had not taken a counselling course, my name was Jiminy Cricket. Since she admits she has applied for information from the British Association for Counselling, but not actually taken the course, I am splitting the difference. Jiminy Ironside it is.

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