Hax: Reach out with concern, no agenda

The Washington PostMay 16, 2013 

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Carolyn: I had a good friend in college, "Lucy"; we were inseparable, in each other's weddings, etc. Over the past two years we've had somewhat of a falling out, and I've kept my distance from her for a number of reasons.

Well, I just found out Lucy's mother killed Lucy's father and then tried to kill herself and is now facing murder charges. How do I even respond?

I knew her parents fairly well but I haven't spoken to her in months, and the last time we spoke it was cold and unfriendly. Is there even a way to reach out?

HOW TO HELP?

Wow. Of course, yes, there's a way to reach out - with genuine grief and concern for her. You just need to do it without the strings of expectation attached. By that I mean expecting her to be grateful to hear from you, expecting to be helpful, or expecting trauma to supersede or erase whatever reasons you had to distance yourself.

She might throw your gesture back in your face or regard your involvement as more harmful than good and these are things you can't predict. Don't protest your treatment, either, if she responds by lashing out. Just make your overture and follow Lucy's lead.

Re: How to help: It's been my experience that when people go through a tragedy as awful as this one, the little squabbles of their past are put into perspective. Carolyn was good to point out that Lucy might not respond, which is certainly possible. But also consider that you know all the parties involved in this without being involved in their lives, which makes you a great person for Lucy to confide in and a presence she might really appreciate.

ANONYMOUS

It is a possibility, thanks, and I hope it turns out to be true. Sometimes, though, the awfulness is too big for someone to handle, at least in the near term, and so a little squabble suddenly becomes a convenient, more manageable place to divert all of the anger and sadness. The friend might quickly become Lucy's pinata.

Email tellme@washpost.com. Chat online at 10 a.m. Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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