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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I recently discovered that a mentally disabled woman who attends our church has become suicidal. She's a warm, friendly, bright individual whose company I thoroughly enjoyed. I have even been a visitor in her home.

The realization that she has considered taking her own life has me so upset that I find myself wanting to avoid her. This doesn't make me feel very good about myself, because she has few friends and waits for my greeting each Sunday. My sensitivity is defeating my good intentions of trying to welcome her in a spirit of love and acceptance.

How do I keep from being just another Judas to complicate her already difficult life? I believe in the power of love to heal, but have I overestimated my own spiritual strength to deal with this? I feel trapped by my own good intentions.

How do I handle this? Please help me. -- WELL-MEANING CHURCHGOER, DENVER

DEAR WELL-MEANING: Why are you running away? Unless the woman confided her suicidal thoughts to you, it may not be true. Even if it is true, her depression is not contagious. There is no reason to stop being friendly with her at church. It may be one of the few positive things she has going in her life.

"Healing her" is not your responsibility. While I, too, believe in the power of love to create positive change, your love cannot possibly cure her chronic depression. Medical intervention is required for that.

The most supportive thing you can do for that dear woman would be to greet her lovingly when you see her, tell your clergyperson what you have discovered, and see to it that she seeks medical and psychological attention if she is, indeed, suicidal.

DEAR ABBY: I read with interest the letter about which hand you should hold your knife and fork in. In Europe, people eat with the knife in their right hand and the fork in their left. It reminded me of a good story about this:

During World War II, an American pilot was shot down over France. He landed in his parachute, and the French underground found him and tried to sneak him across the border to safety. During the journey, they stopped to eat in a cafe. He cut up his food with his knife and then picked up the fork in his right hand to eat. This identified him as an American. He was captured by the Germans and spent the rest of the war in a prison camp. -- DONALD D. GROSS, MSG. (RET.), U.S. ARMY

DEAR DONALD: He should have heeded the old saying, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do," and learned more about the customs of the country he was trying to escape.

DEAR ABBY: My mother-in-law passed away unexpectedly. My husband, who is the executor, has her cremated remains in our home. It was agreed that when all of the children and their spouses were ready, her ashes would be dispersed with all of the family present.

Now one of the sisters wants to open the container that holds the ashes and scoop some out to be put in trinket boxes for the other sisters. I feel this is very disrespectful, and that the container should be opened only once -- when everyone is present -- and only when it's time to disperse all of the ashes. What do you think? -- APPALLED DAUGHTER-IN-LAW

DEAR APPALLED: I see nothing disrespectful about saving a few of your mother-in-law's ashes, if any of her surviving "children" think it will be comforting. Please try not to be judgmental. There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to grieving, and if having the ashes will ease your sister-in-law's grief, I see no harm in it.

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