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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I'm writing in response to two of your readers who complained about "ghost syndrome," which occurs when someone suffers a tragedy such as divorce or terminal illness, and formerly supportive friends withdraw or disappear.

My family suffered another kind of tragedy that resulted in the same insensitive treatment. My husband, a highly placed executive, lost his job in 1990 because of company downsizing. We had been part of a large circle of friends. After the layoff it was as though we had caught a contagious disease or had fallen off the face of the earth.

Please let your readers know that the loss of a job is like having the rug pulled out from under you. Illnesses surface, self-esteem plummets, marriages are stressed and a general feeling of hopelessness pervades each day.

It would have been so helpful if a friend had invited us over for dinner, or had taken one of our children to a movie.

My husband and I finally found jobs out of town. We were grateful not only for the income, but also for a chance at a fresh start with the opportunity to make new friends -- because our old ones had vanished. -- LINDA W., FORMERLY OF TOLEDO, OHIO

DEAR LINDA: I'm sure your letter will strike a chord with many of my readers. Job loss is one of the most challenging circumstances a family has to face. It is a time when the compassion and sensitivity of friends and family -- helping with groceries or child care, offering to update a resume, or dropping off a stack of videos for a night of free entertainment -- can make all the difference.

People who care would not wait to be asked, which can be difficult for a family used to taking care of themselves. Such gestures are deeply appreciated and long remembered.

DEAR ABBY: My husband and I are retired and live in a gated (guarded) community occupied mostly by retired persons.

Our neighbors are lovely people, very friendly and sociable. "Sue" and "Al" are especially nice, and assist us in numerous ways. However, I can't set foot outside my front door without drawing Sue's attention. The minute she sees me, she comes over and initiates a conversation, usually of great length. This happens during the day, at night, on my porch or yard -- anytime I stick my nose outside my front door.

Abby, I like her and her husband very much and try not to hurt their feelings, but the stress is becoming unbearable. I feel like a captive in my own home. I actually dread going out my front door!

How can I convey the message that I don't wish to chat with her every time I am in her sight? It seems she purposely waits for me to come out so she can engage me in conversation. -- DESPERATE IN CARLSBAD

DEAR DESPERATE: Your neighbor could be a lonely woman with few social contacts, or she may be the biggest pest in your gated community. But treat her as you would want to be treated if the situation were reversed.

Make yourself less available for long conversations. Explain gently, but firmly that you have many things to do, and have no time to chat.

For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more attractive person, order "How to Be Popular." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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