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DEAR ABBY: My recent eighth-grade graduation should have been a happy night for me, but I spent most of it in the bathroom with my best friend, "Sandy." She was crying her eyes out because her father was there. She hadn't seen him for more than two years. Sandy's mother had an affair with him 14 years ago, and he decided to stay with his wife, leaving Sandy and her mother alone. Her father pays child support, but his absence has left an emotional gap you could drive a truck through.

Sandy's mother is a wonderful person, but you can't talk to her about important things. And Sandy isn't open about her feelings to many people. They build up inside her and she just explodes. Seeing her father on graduation night was the straw that broke the camel's back. He seemed uncomfortable. He barely spoke to Sandy and didn't give her a hug or anything. I try to console my friend the best I can, but I'm not sure what to say. Abby, if she starts to feel bad again, what can I say to help her heal her pain? -- CONCERNED FRIEND IN WISCONSIN

DEAR CONCERNED FRIEND: Continue to be the caring and supportive friend you have been. However, rather than trying to heal her hurt, tell your mother what you have observed and ask her to speak to Sandy's mother. Sandy will need counseling and a safe place to express her feelings of hurt and abandonment. If she sees someone now, it could save her years of unhappiness and therapy later. Her feelings are valid and must be addressed.

DEAR ABBY: Our daughter, "Lea," went away to college last year. She was looking forward not only to the opportunity to learn, but also to make new friends. She had made only a couple of friends in high school. During her freshman year at college, Lea made an effort to make friends, but never made more than one.

Lea is returning for her sophomore year, resigned to being one of the less popular students. Have you any suggestions or a booklet of some kind to help her? Lea is a bright, attractive young woman who deserves to have friends. What's her problem, Abby? -- SAD MOTHER IN SANDUSKY, OHIO

DEAR SAD MOTHER: You haven't given me enough information to determine what has prevented your daughter from making friends. However, I do have a booklet that other people have found helpful; it's titled "How to Be Popular: You're Never Too Young or Too Old." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope plus a check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.) Allow six to eight weeks for delivery.

DEAR ABBY: My 38-year-old son was recently sentenced to 14 years in prison for molesting his 10-year-old stepdaughter. I am devastated.

Do you think I should seek out the girl and tell her how sorry I am? She and her mother live several hundred miles away. I feel my son has ruined this young girl's life. -- STEP-GRANDMA IN ALABAMA

DEAR STEP-GRANDMA: By all means let the child know you care about her well-being. Let her know that you empathize with her pain and are there for her. Right now, the girl needs to know that she is loved and that family members support her. You can accomplish this by reaching out.

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