Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Keep Lines of Communication Open to Grieving Friend

DEAR HARRIETTE: My best friend's father died, and I feel so bad for her. He lived with her for the last few years, and she was a dutiful daughter. She seems so calm about her dad's death, but I can't imagine how. He wasn't really sick; he just died.

She is going about making arrangements very matter-of-factly. I want to be of help, but she seems so efficient that she doesn't need help. How can I be a good friend to her without being annoying? -- Best Friend, Laurel, Md.

DEAR BEST FRIEND: Trust that your friend is doing the best she can, and know that she likely values hearing from you.

Check in with her each day, morning and evening, to see how she's doing. Once a day, specifically ask if she needs your help with anything. During another call, check in on her emotions by asking how she's feeling and whether she wants to talk. Ask if you can fix her some food or take her for a drive. Let her know that you love her and that you want to be there for her in any way she would prefer.

Being a friend may simply mean offering your ear and your love to her consistently. If she has a moment of need, you will have a chance to support her if you are speaking to her regularly.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My niece is a real Debbie Downer. No matter what we talk about, she always finds something wrong with it. We spent a few days together during the holidays, and she drove me crazy. I was telling her about my new job. She didn't care. We listened to music, and she hated everything I played for her. Honestly, all she did was complain.

At one point, I said that she seems to see the glass as half empty, while I see it as half full. She took offense at my statement. I tried to give her examples of what I meant.

In the end, when she had hurt my feelings for the 100th time, I blew up and told her off. I really didn't mean to do that, but I was so frustrated.

How can I fix it with her? I think she must be sad or something. I want to help her and protect myself at the same time. -- Worn Out, Los Angeles

DEAR WORN OUT: Your niece probably doesn't realize how she affects others. Often when people are overly negative, they have low self-esteem. Sadly, when they are challenged about it, this only helps to support their belief that the world is against them.

It may help to be very specific when you tell your niece your concerns. If you can identify a situation when she was extremely negative and it hurt your feelings, describe it to her. Through your eyes, she may be able to see how her reaction affects you. Chances are, she has been clueless about considering your feelings.

Helping her open her eyes to others' perspectives may soften her opinions about herself and those around her.