Dear Margo: Yours Would Be Some Farewell Note

Should I pass on the seedy family secrets before I pass on? Margo Howard’s advice

Yours Would Be Some Farewell Note

Dear Margo: I’m dying. Should the family’s secrets die with me? For three generations, I have been privy to the immoral, unethical and, yes, illegal behavior of some individuals in my family.

Before I die, should I tell my niece-in-law that her husband has had a 30-year sexual relationship with her brother? Does my own brother need to know that his youngest son is not his, but the result of his prim and proper wife’s affair with a neighbor? What would the family think of sweet Aunt “Flo” if they knew she’s been embezzling from her employer? Should Grandma be told that her stolen silver is in her granddaughter’s attic? Does the family need to know that Uncle “Ed” exposes himself in the mall parking lot? How shocked would the rest of the family be if they knew Junior, the Eagle Scout, is also a drug dealer? Would home-wrecker “Sally” be interested in knowing that her new husband is still married to his first wife? I could go on and on. What are your thoughts? — Knows It All

Dear Knows: I think you are either a novelist or an undergrad at Yale, or you have one of the most screwed up, felonious families ever to cross my radar. But let’s say, for argument’s sake, that the question is genuine and the depictions accurate. Regarding your uncertainty about whether to reveal what you know, the question to ask yourself is this: Were you to out each and every miscreant, would the information be helpful to anyone? (And I’m wondering how it happens that you seem to be the only one who has the dirt on everyone.) So my answer to you would be to figure out another farewell message for your louche clan and let time work its magic. Some of the “issues” you mention have ways of making themselves known. — Margo, skeptically

The Message? You Are Not Alone.

Dear Margo: You have written: “I always listen to the voice of experience.” Well, here I am. Years ago, I was in an abusive relationship. The red flags were everywhere, and it finally escalated into physical, sexual and psychological torment. I finally got out, leaving half my belongings because I knew he would never let me go. Strangely, most of our friends took his side and many called me an outright liar. I moved on, got therapy and am still working on myself. For the most part, I’ve forgiven him, if only for my own mental health, and I am at peace. However, I will always regret that I did not call the police.

Two years ago, his girlfriend phoned to ask for help with her abuse. I found out today his newest girlfriend is in the same situation, and her family and friends are frantic trying to find resources. I write this letter for a couple of reasons. First, to the women (and men) in abusive relationships: It may feel as if you are alone, but you’re not. Call your local shelter and a neutral friend or family member. Although your abuser may tell you no one will help, trust me, someone will.

Second, believe someone if they tell you they need help. I strongly believe my ex will not stop until he goes to prison or kills his partner. I wish I had stopped him a long time ago, but now my hope is that this letter might stop someone from staying in a relationship that could eventually kill them. — Lucky (Very)

Dear Luck: You are right. I do always listen to the voice of experience, and your message, let us hope, will give courage to women who think there is no way out. It is hard, I’m sure, for those of us who have not experienced this kind of punishing behavior to believe anyone would stand still for it, but you and I know their number is legion. Thank you. — Margo, proactively

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


Every Thursday and Friday, you can find “Dear Margo” and her latest words of wisdom on wowOwow

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35 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Kate Olsen says:

    LW 1 – has to be a hoax – what a chuckle it gave me. Is she a mob wife or husband? If she/he is real, she/he needs to contact local law enforcement – much of what is written is against the law and needs to be taken care of ASAP. But, I suspect, it is all hogwash and she/he is just looking for attention.

    LW2 – I totally agree – been there and done that. but all does not go well when calling police in. I lived in a small community and I once had a female state police officer sit at my kitchen table and tell me I deserved every thing my husband gave me. He knew a lot of the local and state police, having grown up with them and I was an outsider. He convinced them that I was a crack head who stole from him. Never mind that I had a job of my own and income from child support and a disabled child to care for. I was never allowed to sign papers to have him arrested for the beatings. Until a rookie, new to the job, stood up for me. He took one look at my bruises and cuts and had my ex cuffed and stuffed in the police car. His partner ordered him to release my ex but he refused. That rookie reported all that I told him to superiors in another location. Needless to say, heads rolled, many had disciplinary notes in their files, etc. And the ones that are still on duty, regularly pull me over to try and find any infraction on my vehicle that they can to punish me. I do not care. Thanks to that rookie, I was able to get the guts to leave and have never looked back. 14 years later I am a strong independent woman who will never let another man abuse me in any way, shape or form. Any time I see the signs in friends or family, I remind them of my story and offer suppoert. hugs to you

  2. avatar normadesmond says:

    letter #1 was a hoot and your answer was perfect.

  3. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    LW#1:  Ditto Normadesmond’s response!

    LW#2:  Thank you for your letter.   I hope someone turns your ex over to the police and that the police are responsive.   You can always offer to be a corroborating witness if he goes to trial.  I have a great deal of respect for you for getting away from him.  I am currently seeing a close friend undergo an emotionally abusive marriage and struggling with whether to leave…or not.  Unfortunately, I let my opinion be known to her when she wasn’t ready to hear it and while we are friends again after months of estrangement , she will not turn to me for help and I cannot discuss this with her for fear of reigniting her anger at me for my earlier *interference*. Of course I would do anything for her should she decide to get out of the marriage but for now I feel powerless to help her.  I sincerely hope no one reading this is currently in an abusive relationship, but if you are, please don’t close the door to advice from your friends even if you find it interfering.  I probably approached the situation like a bull in a china closet with my friend but I wanted her to *see the light*.  Its hard to know what to do when you see a friend suffering abuse.

  4. avatar Lym BO says:

    LW1: Only if you think they would actually believe you. I would guess they would just say you are demented. And so it goes…
    LW2: Wouldn’t it be cool if we could get little pocket cards (or permanent emails/web articles) into the hands of high schoolers? Things included could be: how to spot an abuser-and react; how to live well within your means, what to do if you’re pregnant & don’t want your baby, how to discipline your child so they are not brats or abused; a view into a life of a meth head or my favorite silly one: what your tattoo will look like & be perceived when you are 30,40 & 80. I’m just amazed at things people do simply because they don’t know these important things that could so easily change the course of their life. This fine app should be embedded in all smart phones like the unremovable “Mail” or “Safari” app on iDevices. Seriously.

    • avatar teresa harris says:

      Wow. I know you think you’re being glib when you equate being tattooed and living the hell that is living with an abuser. I am 30. I look good with my tattooes, and have no effing care what you, or any judgemental A thinks about my appearance. I do, however, care deeply about getting people out of the soul crushing experience of physical, sexual or emotional abuse. You have no idea what you’re talking about and it shows. My ex was a clean cut, good looking blonde guy. I am tattooed and pierced. In no way did I deserve what happened to me, just like his ex didn’t deserve it, and how his newest girlfriend will not. I think your attitude is offensive.

      • avatar The Wild Sow says:

        Thanks, Teresa. I’m in my 50’s and my tattoos look great. I was 42 when I got my first and only wish I’d done it when I was younger (financial constraints held me back.) I work in health care & see plenty of folks in their 70s and 80s with ink. And they’re all beautiful to me!

        Topic? What Teresa said; no one deserves that.

      • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

        I did not take it to mean that those situations were being equated.  If you believe that the poster is equating them, then you did not take exception to equating abusive situations to living outside of your means.  Obviously, abuse is a much greater concern that someone living outside of their means.   

        You are right that tattoos or piercings have nothing to do with the character of the people who have them.  I hope that whatever industry you are in is more accepting than the one that I am in.  Exposed tattoos and long hair in men are generally big no-nos for the legal profession.  My hair cost me several very good jobs when I was younger, although it did force me into a better, albeit less lucrative, situation. 

        Take care.

        • avatar The Wild Sow says:

          stateoflove etc. — The more of *us* who get into positions of power (simply by sheer numbers, growing older and moving up the ladder a bit) — the more acceptance there will be.

          At the moment, I don’t have hiring power. I did some years ago; I found I don’t particularly like being a “boss” and did a lateral move away from it. But if I were interviewing one candidate *with* known tattoos and one without, all else being equal — the one with the ink would be hired.

      • avatar Deborah Key says:


        I got a tattoo ten years ago.  I still look great.  My tattoo, not so much.  If it looked as good as it did several years ago, I would still show it off. 

        Suggest you have a glass of wine and read Lym’s post again. 

      • avatar Lym BO says:

        I was not equating any of those things to each other. I was simply stating a guide to life would be a good thing for youth. I’m sorry you misinterpreted my post. I was hoping it would be a segue into other things people might think would be things they wish they knew when they were younger. Obviously, abuse ranks highest.
        I don’t have an issue with tattoos. I just have several friends who regret having them- for personal and professional reasons. My guide would just ask people consider future goals and how they mesh.
        As for you abuse, it’s very sad. It is also something that needs to be shared with young people. Your point was my point. Ie. a users don’t fit a certain mold or gender.

  5. avatar David Bolton says:

    LW1: Aw… your life sounds just like Forrest Gump’s, only more lurid. I wish I had time to listen to more, but here comes my train/bus/taxi/skateboard.

    LW2: I think you should remove yourself completely from this situation in all its forms—as victim and as rescuer. You cannot save the world from your ex, and you shouldn’t be trying anyway.

  6. avatar Briana Baran says:

    I had to laugh at L#1, and I am not as certain that it is a hoax as some seem to be. It bears a suspicious resemblance to aspects of my maternal family back in the day. One gem of a tale involves my bi-polar (and deliberately un-medicated, refusing to see a psychiatrist, alcohol guzzling, egocentric and somewhat dim) cousin, who, at 16, found her 40+ year old, organized crime affiliated, cocaine dealing/using sugar/baby daddy dead of a heart attack in his bathtub. He’d been there a few days…she’d gone there to score a gram or so and bit of pocket change. She was very upset…no nose candy on the premises.

    Then there is her niece, who was dating a handsome fellow, who had a terrible accident that left him a paraplegic. She insisted on the obvious choice…engagement and marriage…then divorced him about four months after the wedding because his disability was just cramping her style a bit too much. I wager that she got her full ration of attention for Doing the Courageous Girlfriend thing…then, once the shine was off that penny, she split. Did I mention he was very upstanding about it…then had to be hospitalized for severe depression? And that he was on serious painkillers during the entire wedding process, and *still* tried to convince her that it was all a very serious mistake, but that she bulldozed him with tears and recriminations that HE no longer loved HER to force her agenda?

    That’s the proverbial tip of the iceberg…and quite enough to give reason for my amusement at, and acceptance of L#1. Don’t bother telling a soul, dear. Or do, and enjoy the havoc you create. Just don’t harm the innocent with the fall-out.

  7. avatar Rossana says:

    L#1 Could it be just a coincidence that the long running daytime soap opera One Life To Live ended a 40+ year run last week? Sounds like soap plots to me. True or not, thanks for the laugh…and thank God that my family isn’t quite so disfunctional.

  8. avatar R Scott says:

    LW1 – *ahem*… Oh my. What a colorful family you have.  Why the hell have you waited so long? This stuff should have been gossiped about all along. When you’ve got skeletons like this in your closet you need to bring them out, dress them up and take them dancing.

    LW2 – As long as you’re this involved in your ex’s life you’re still involved with your ex. You’ve not let go completely from what I can see. Keep working on it but good advice nonetheless.

  9. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: If it’s all true, just go quietly.

    L #2: Kudos on getting away and being safe/sane.

    • avatar Messy ONE says:

      I wouldn’t. There are some pretty seedy secrets in my family, and you can be sure that if I still lived within 2000 miles of any of them, there wouldn’t be any secrets left by now.

      Put it this way. If I wrote a “family saga”-type trashy “novel” and told the absolute truth about every single member of that family, it would be on the best seller lists for YEARS. It would look blatantly fake (who’s that messed up?), but it would be true. I could probably get away with it, too. None of them would dare own up to anything in it…

  10. avatar JCF4612 says:

    LW#1: Get in touch with the networks immediately. Guiding Light, General Hospital, Search for Tomorrow all fell victim to lack of view interest stemming from tepid scripts. Your situation could spur a revival of sorts that would fund your estate for generations to come, and your sketchy family members would love you for it.  

    LW#2: I agree with David Bolton … Do remove yourself from this toxic situation, unlikely to right itself until your ex croaks. The girlfriends can find help elsewhere. 

  11. avatar Annie H says:

    LW #2  I am so proud of you for getting yourself out of an abusive relationship.  Unless you have been there, you don’t know how crushing it is to your heart, body, and soul.  You cannot feel guilt for not stopping your ex.  Whose to say that he would have stopped after going to jail?  If the abuser doesn’t want help, it won’t work.  Yes, I have been in an abusive relationship and am out.  After 12 years, I am still deprogramming myself from the verbal abuse.  It takes time and lots of therapy. 

    For those who keep saying she should stay out of the ex’s life.  She isn’t in the ex’s life.  She said she *heard* he was being abusive to his current girlfriend and *heard* he was abusive to another ex girlfriend and feels bad that she didn’t call the police. Big difference.  AND if someone asked me for help in getting out of an abusive relationship, I would do it in a heartbeat.  It wouldn’t matter who the abuser is. 


  12. avatar Miss Lee says:

    I had a short, 5 month, marriage a few years ago.  During courtship he was an absolute prince and that was the way everyone else saw him.  His first wife warned me that he was a Dr, Jeckle-Mr. Hyde and I had only seen the good “Sam”.  I met the bad Sam two days after I married him.  He came right up to the edge of physical abuse, destroyed objects around me, threatened me but never actually hit me.  Thank God as he was well over 6 foot and very strong. He could have killed me with one blow. It was absolutely terrifying and I knew escape was tricky.  He left town one weekend with his son and my friends arrived with a pickup and took me to an undisclosed location.  I talked to his ex-wife and she sighed and said “at least one person believes me now”.  A few months later, the wife of his best friend, “Julie” called to let me know that he was going to remarry.  I told her that perhaps now he would quit following me.  Awkward silence.  A couple years later Julie called to apologise because she hadn’t believed me but now his present wife had escaped to her parents and was telling the same stories as I had.  And he had shown up at Julie’s house with another young girl that he was courting.  Julie wondered if she should say anything to the newest victim.  I had no advice to give….she wouldn’t believe it – some days I still can’t.  Since that first day he attacked me, I have considered that I have been on borrowed time,,,,a gift from God.

    • avatar JCF4612 says:

      Wow … the only thing that might make sense would be a group intervention. Three exes and Julie to prevent the current victim-to-be being courted from falley prey. So glad you extricated yourself.  

    • avatar Messy ONE says:

      And no one’s ever called the police? Not once? Ever?

      That’s the saddest part of the whole thing. All of you people sitting on your duffs, knowing for a fact that he’s pounding some girl into the ground and LETTING HIM DO IT. What’s that about?

      Anyone who knows about abuse and chooses not to do anything about it is as bad as the abuser himself. I’d be ashamed to know all of you.

      • avatar butterfly55 says:

        Read again, he never actually hit her (things thrown around her).  Makes it that much more difficult to get away from the mental and verbal abuse.

  13. avatar Alexa Rossington says:

    I don’t doubt LW 1 because my family goes through similar shenanigans, perhaps beause it’s large.  In any case, the writer said she is dying.  Has no one any sympathy?  All the best to you on the other side!

    • avatar The Wild Sow says:

      I can just see LW1, on her (his?) deathbed, disclosing all, and lying back to die. And suddenly….a miraculous cure is found for whatever is killing her!

      Can we say, “Awk-ward!”?

    • avatar Lym BO says:

      I’m pretty sure she wasn’t looking for sympathy. Besides a bunch of folks on an advice blog aren’t really the support I’d be looking for in this case. She is looking for advice on how to deal with her dysfunctional family. I think if it were me, I’d leave notes.

    • avatar David Bolton says:

      “Has no one any sympathy?”

      For someone who is dying, yes.

      For someone who writes letters to advice columns that at best are fake and at worst are gleeful exposés of their family members’ foibles, mistakes and misfortunes just for the sake of getting even and raising hackles—no.

      Indeed, if this is really how someone wants to die—I don’t think they’ll find “all the best” on the other side.

      • avatar The Wild Sow says:

        My point was, suppose he or she reveals all and then survives the current illness or crisis. And still has to live in the world with these folks!

  14. avatar Violet says:

    I don’t get the whole “I’ve forgiven him” thing. If someone wronged me by abusing me that badly, I don’t give them a pass, even in my own mind. If by forgiven, she means she is not going to dwell on it, that’s one thing, but in my life, even if I don’t think about it, if someone wrongs me, especially if there was no attempt to make amends, I don’t let them off the hook.

    Also, she should have had the guy criminally prosecuted. If he had treated someone on the street like that, he would have gone to prison for years. He does not get a pass for doing it to his own wife, and, because she took no action, it sounds like now there’s another victim.

  15. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    Letter #1 – I had the same knee jerk reaction that Margo had, “Why is it she is being told all of this drama?” Is she the family busy-body or is she the family confidante? Whether she should reveal all the family dirt depends on the answer to that question.

    If she knows all of the family dirt because she is a gossip that buzzes about collecting juicy tidbits about everyone, no she should not leave evidence that she knows of the dysfunction.  But if she is the respected family confidante that everyone turns to as the trusted and revered one, yes she should. It would be the most honorable last act of her respected life.

    There is a wonderful PSA running on TV in my area now that depicts a young teenage boy talking about the fact this his mother is addicted. Scene after scene he talks about her addiction to this mysterious drug called Denial. The last shot is a mother walking into her son’s bedroom as he sits on the bed with a girl, and spread out before them is a pile of drugs. The mother asks how he is doing and then shows her closing the door. The ending is a voiceover of the teen saying “Yes, my mother is addicted to denial”

    For all that this letter writer describes, I would counter that this is a family of people in denial. All of this can not be kept secret for as long as she is implying. This smacks of a lot of people in denial. Lying to others and themselves. A loving act for this letter writer (if she is a respected confidante) would be to lay out all the dirty business for them each to hear and deal with. Margo asks,  “would the information be helpful to anyone? ”    I would say yes. It would be transfomative to those that will have no choice other than deal with their deeds finally.

    By finally having the truths exposed, they can each reset the clock and start life anew. Relate to others more honestly. Have the facts in certain instances, to make the decision to move on or stay put. In my opinion it would be the most loving thing this letter writer could do.

    Letter #2 – I applaud this letter writer for what she has said. I can still remember back in the early days of WOWOWOW when we would discuss abuse on the threads of conversation. I would voice all of the same advice and beliefs and I would be ripped up one side and down the other! 🙂 “WHO ARE YOU TO TEll SOMEONE THEY SHOULD LEAVE BELINDA JOY!……..WOMEN STAY BECAUSE THEY HAVE TO!…….STOP BEING SO JUDGEMENTAL!”  

    Whoa, the heck I was given.   Yet the bottom line as this letter writer has indicated, is the lesson that each moment a woman remains in an abusive relationship, that is a wasted moment where she could have been free of pain. Not to mention the fact that women that remain with men that abuse them, emboldens these men. It’s tantemount to a thief that gets away with one theft, they feel emboldened to steal again, and again and again. Once they are stopped, they realize that behavior will not be tolerated. The same rings true for men that abuse women. The more women stand up to them, the stronger the women become and the weaker these men become in the process.        

  16. avatar B.eadle says:

    I doubt that LW1 is the only one in the family to know these secrets. Sometimes people know but have opted to ignore the issue so that they can go on living in peace. To throw it in everyone’s face on your deathbed is a cowards way out. If you don’t have the nerve to say it and live with the consequences than why would you force others into that same situation. If you can’t do it, then don’t force others to either.

  17. avatar Elizabeth L says:

    Is Margo posting only one column a week ?

  18. avatar Paula says:

    I’d also guess that the first one is either a bad joke or someone looking to stir up some drama to get everybody talking. On the off-chance that it’s true, however, I’d say that this person needs to SAY nothing now – or ever – unless he/she has irrefutable proof of these claims. Does she (assuming the writer is female – I could be wrong!) have a paternity test showing that her nephew is someone else’s child? Does she have anything that would prove the relationship between her nephew and his brother-in-law? How about proof of the embezzling and the stolen silver? My guess is the answer to all of the above is no, since proof of some of these would be awfully hard to come by. No proof, no case, keep the mouth shut! However, if some kind of proof does exist, then she needs to show it to the individual(s) concerned (ONLY those individuals directly affected – NOT the whole family or anyone else!!!) and let them handle the information. As for the illegal acts she claims to know about (embezzling, stolen silver, man exposing himself, drug dealer, bigamist), if and ONLY if she has proof, she needs to notify the authorities. If she has no proof, her mouth needs to remain shut!!!!