While I'm away, readers give the advice.
On severing the tie with the in-laws/grandparents because your spouse has died:
Not long after breaking the news to me that his girlfriend was pregnant, my 18-year-old son was murdered. One of the things that helped me maintain some normalcy in my life is that I had to help provide for my future granddaughter.
Seventeen years later, I have been permitted by her mother to play a great part in my granddaughter's life -- so much so that my granddaughter thinks of me more as a father than her grandfather. Without her mother's devotion to and understanding of family connections, my life would not have been the same. To this day, when I see my precious baby girl, it's like I still have my son with me. My advice is to please let the grandparents maintain a connection with their grandkids.
On that existential stumper, "Do I really have to?":
Many, many years ago, when I asked whether I had to turn in a problem set, my math teacher said to me: "The only thing you have to do in this world is die."
I remind myself of that whenever I'm feeling put upon or forced into an uncomfortable position. It helps me realize that, in almost every situation in life, there is a choice to be made, and I'm the one making it. It's very empowering.
On being the only one making an effort to save the marriage:
If someone really is considering leaving the marriage, one technique is to go find a good divorce lawyer and have an initial consultation, which is usually free. Also find a good marriage counselor, have a session or two by yourself to be sure you feel you can work with him or her.
Then hand your spouse a business card from both, and ask which office s/he'd like to meet you at. I know people who have saved their marriages this way.
On devout parents shocked to learn of a child's atheism:
As a teenage atheist daughter of Christian parents, I would like to respond to parents:
Don't panic. In all likelihood, your children will be well-adjusted members of society, just like you. Be glad they feel safe enough to trust you to not overreact to their decisions. By harassing them about Christianity, treating them like rebellious teenagers, or undermining their ability to make decisions, you will only distance them from you.
Instead, mom-up, and tell them you are OK with it. (Remember that two-thirds of the world is not Christian.) Tell them you won't force them to go to church or participate in prayers. Would you appreciate being made to pray to a deity you don't believe in?
Do tell them you expect them to be decent human beings no matter who they pray or don't pray to. That is a universal value.
Parents might consider that teenagers declaring atheism could be "playing" their parents to get out of getting up early on a Sunday morning, and to hang out at home in their jammies.
My unsolicited advice would be to tell these kids they are welcome to their beliefs, but instead of going to church, they will still have to get up with the rest of the family, dress nicely, and volunteer at a hospital or nursing home during the time the family is away. Like religion, community service also builds character!
If God gave us the capacity to reason, then why would he hold it against us to use that tool and ask good, hard questions about faith? Regardless of what "exists beyond," I highly doubt that a Supreme Being is going to banish a soul for eternity for simply embracing the gift of free thinking.
My husband grew up in a super-religious family, but eventually declared himself a disbeliever.
For nearly two decades his mother and sister tried to turn every conversation to religion. The result: He rarely initiated communication. The formerly close-knit family would then complain to him at every opportunity that he wouldn't call or write. This led him to actively avoid their calls and emails, as he was receiving nothing positive or uplifting from communication with them, only frustration over their inability to accept him as he is. He accepted them and never criticized their beliefs.
Eventually, his sister realized backing off was the key to saving their relationship, and they have begun to reconnect. His mother also eventually backed down some, but as she ages it is clear that opportunities for reknitting true familial bonds are slipping away. He calls now sometimes, but out of duty, not desire. It's very sad, and so easily avoided by accepting what you can't change: someone else.
• Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, or chat with her online at 11 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.