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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I live in a small town and attend a local high school that has about 1,400 students. In the last three years, there have been an outrageous number of student deaths. It has become so common that the student body is no longer shocked.

We have lost a student who was run down by a drunk driver, two were murdered in drive-by shootings, two drowned in boating accidents, one died in a car accident that was triggered by an aneurysm, another dropped dead during class due to an undisclosed medical condition, and three others died in car accidents. Three days ago two more students were in a car wreck that left both in critical condition.

Has our school fallen under a terrible curse? We have suffered enough. There is only so much grief one school can handle. Please, Abby, tell me what can be done to lift the spirits of the students. -- GRIEVING IN LOUISIANA

DEAR GRIEVING: The first thing to do is recognize that their feelings (and yours) are normal. To be confronted with the fact that life isn't infinite at your tender age can be shocking. It is normal to be sad, angry, confused and frightened when someone close to you dies.

Everyone must cope with the reality of death in his or her own way. A giant step in that direction would have been for the principal of your school to have brought counselors to the campus to help the students work through their grief. Writing letters to the parents of the students who died is another way to get your feelings out, and the parents would treasure them.

A memorial to your deceased classmates might help the rest of you to move on -- a mural, a garden, something tangible to ensure they will not be forgotten. Please consider it if you haven't already done so.

DEAR ABBY: I am a 36-year-old woman with AIDS. Before I was diagnosed, I worked -- usually as a secretary -- in various parts of the country. I had no problem finding work. Then my health deteriorated, and I wasn't able to work for a long time. Recently I was given new medications and I'm now healthier than I have been in a decade.

I am able to work and want to get off disability, but I now have a 10-year gap in my work history. If I mention the reason on a job application, I'm afraid no one will hire me. I could lie and say I was "staying home with the children," but I don't have any children.

Can you advise me on how to handle this? -- WANTS TO WORK IN MILWAUKEE

DEAR WANTS TO WORK: Certain questions are illegal in the job hiring process, including a person's general medical condition, state of health or illness, and/or physical or mental disabilities. You are not legally required to discuss your health. If you are asked, you are within your rights to say that you didn't work for personal reasons.

DEAR ABBY: I am a 16-year-old girl and haven't had my period for almost five months. What does that mean? -- NEEDS TO KNOW IN MIAMI

DEAR NEEDS TO KNOW: There could be several reasons for it. However, the person to determine the cause should be your doctor. Please do not wait to discuss the problem with him or her. Ask your mother to schedule an appointment and accompany you. It will put your concerns to rest.

For everything you need to know about wedding planning, order "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." Send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby, Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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