My brother passed away a year ago, leaving a wife and five children. They are wonderful, well-behaved kids. Unfortunately, my brother appears to have been the one who kept everybody on schedule and made all the decisions. My sister-in-law just did whatever he said, deciding nothing on her own. Now that he's gone, the family seems to be falling apart.

The kids spend very little time at home, and they never eat together as a family anymore - something I know is necessary these days to keep tabs on what the kids are up to. I could go into detail about how things have gone to pot, but I want to keep this brief. It breaks my heart to see it happen.

I would love to have a little chat with my sister-in-law to explain to her that she must step up to the plate and be the adult.

How does one broach the subject without alienating her?

- Loving Aunt in New Jersey

DEAR LOVING AUNT: Start by telling this widowed mother of five that you are worried about her, that you're concerned she may be chronically depressed over her husband's death, and you think she may need to talk to her doctor.

A woman in her situation, someone who has never made a decision for herself since the day she was married (or maybe longer), is in a terrible pickle. She needs a mentor because she will have to learn self-sufficiency from the ground up. So be prepared to share every bit of wisdom you can with her.

DEAR ABBY: A child was found dead in our area. He died from blunt force trauma to his head. His mother had reported him missing, and 12 hours later his younger brother found his body. It's not being called murder, although everyone around here suspects it was.

I went to the visitation the first night, and I have never seen so many kids attend a funeral without a parent. I was appalled. You don't send children to a child's funeral alone.

I felt terrible for them. They lost a good friend and didn't have their parents there to help them cope.

I realize that people have to work, but the visitation was from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. The funeral was at 11 a.m. the next day. One adult I spoke with said that she didn't go because she couldn't stand to see the child that way. She couldn't take it, so I had to be there for her daughter.

Don't people understand that it's not about them? Parents need to realize that their kids may have a lot of questions and mixed-up emotions and need to talk.

What do you think of this?

- Sad Mom in the U.S.A.

DEAR SAD MOM: I think you have written an important letter. Parents, if this letter strikes a familiar chord, please wake up and reprioritize. Your children need you - especially at a time like this - to help them talk through any fears and anxieties they are experiencing.

DEAR ABBY: I was in and out of a relationship with "Bob" for four years, and we recently split up again. Last September I bought an airline ticket for him to accompany me on a Florida vacation, but we broke up, so I cashed in his ticket.

Bob keeps calling me and saying he wants his "present" so that he can go away. I said, "No way!"

Was I wrong?

- Hurt in Massachusetts

DEAR HURT: Heck, no! The ticket was purchased with the understanding that Bob would accompany you to Florida. Because you are now on the outs (again) and it's not going to happen, why treat him to a free trip?

Frankly, I think he has nerve to suggest otherwise, and if you're smart, the response you'll give him the next time he calls with his hand out will be, "Don't call me again."