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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: "Flower Fans" had a good idea in sending a "thinking of you" card a week after a funeral, and a flower arrangement a month later, but may I suggest that you don't stop there? It's comforting to know that others are going through those difficult "firsts" with you.

How about a card in mid-November pledging thoughts and prayers for that first holiday season with an empty place at the festive table? If a parent was lost, a note before Mother's or Father's Day can help them get past the store displays of cards they can no longer send. Especially for the loss of a child, send a card just before the absent one's birthday. The first anniversary of a loved one's death should be commemorated.

Cards should carry a simple, encouraging tone. Notes need not be elaborate. Just say, "I'm thinking of you at this time," share a happy memory of the departed that is associated with the occasion, or say something such as, "Your daddy would have been so proud of you today." Although flowers, lunch and service are an important way of showing you care, a card can be read in the middle of the night when sleep won't come, or read again on a lonely morning. Words on a page can be wrapped around you like a warm hug, reminders that you care.

Our modern times are often hectic, and it's all too easy to forget another's quiet grief in the hustle of our own lives, but I have found that by marking reminders all through the calendar, I can keep our friends' needs in mind as the months go by. As the saying goes, "A joy shared is multiplied; grief shared is grief divided." -- SUSIE IN OLYMPIA, WASH.

DEAR SUSIE: You have offered some excellent suggestions for supporting friends and family who have lost a loved one. It's an unpleasant part of life that many people do not want to dwell on. However, it's worth remembering that anyone can be a friend when things are rosy; the time when friendship is needed most is when they're not.

DEAR ABBY: The letter from "Lost in Love" brought to mind a quote I read somewhere years ago. I don't recall the source. It pertains to both of the quotes you used in your reply.

"Distance is to love what wind is to a flame. If it is a little flame, the wind will blow it out. If it is a big flame, the wind will fan it and make it grow hotter." --STANLEY J. POPLAWSKI, CARLSTADT, N.J.

DEAR STANLEY: Of course, whether a long-distance romance can survive would depend on the individuals involved. Several readers have informed me that courting by mail actually helped them to know each other better, with less "distraction" than a typical dating relationship. However, I think much depends upon their ages and their level of commitment.

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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