Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Neighbor Needs Support After Loss

DEAR HARRIETTE: I’m not sure how to handle a delicate situation. My neighbor’s husband passed away recently, and she is having a hard time. We were never close, but I am concerned for her. I want to be able to support her, but my husband doesn’t like her. He has a good friend who has filled his head with terrible stories about her, so he doesn’t want me to associate with her. I kept my distance for years because of my husband’s perspective, but now she needs support. How do I break the invisible line and lend a hand without offending my husband? -- In Mourning, New Orleans

DEAR IN MOURNING: Talk to your husband and let him know that you feel compelled to support your neighbor during her time of grieving. Point out that you hope neighbors would rally on your behalf if anything happened to him. Let him know you feel it’s important to help out in whatever ways you can through this fresh time of mourning.

Then, because you know of his sensitivities, be mindful not to bring home stories about this woman and her suffering too often. Be a good neighbor and do what you can, but resist the temptation to win your husband over into liking her. If it happens, fine, but do not make that your objective.

Read more in: Death | Friends & Neighbors | Marriage & Divorce

Friend Wants to Ask About Weight Loss

DEAR HARRIETTE: I know a woman who recently has lost a ton of weight. She was never heavy, but now she is skinny. I don’t know if she did a weight-loss plan or surgery, or if she is sick. All I know is that she looks unhealthy. I like this woman and want to check on her. What can I say? I know people can be sensitive about their weight. -- Too Thin, Milwaukee

DEAR TOO THIN: You are about to hit the hot button on this one! It is tough to bring up issues of weight with people, wherever they fit on the spectrum. Because you care about this woman, you may want to try this approach: When you see her and can speak privately, tell her how happy you are to see her and ask what she has done to lose so much weight. Tell her you noticed she has trimmed down a lot and you were wondering how she did it. This is the most neutral way to get to the core issue.

If you have had any history of fluctuating weight, you may want to bring that up in the conversation, so that you show you have compassion and understanding about weight issues. This may help your friend to open up. It will be up to her whether she is ready to reveal her circumstances to you. You may have to accept that this is none of your business and just let her see that talking to you can be a safe space for her if she ever wants to share more.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)

Read more in: Health & Safety | Friends & Neighbors | Etiquette & Ethics