DEAR HARRIETTE: I just learned that my first girlfriend from ninth grade died by suicide in her first year in college. Though we did not stay together as a couple, we did remain friends. We even talked a little bit this year as we were getting into the groove of college. I knew that she would get depressed or sad at times, but this came as a complete shock. She was a nice girl, and she was smart and seemed to be on the right track. I am so saddened by this, and I wonder if there was something more I could have done as her friend. -- Devastated
DEAR DEVASTATED: I am so sorry for your loss. Having someone close to you die, especially when you are young, can be a gut-wrenching experience. When the person takes her own life, that's even worse. Survivors are left with so many questions -- including yours, about what you may have been able to do to help.
Rather than agonizing over the what-ifs, since you cannot do anything to bring your friend back, concentrate on healing. Be gentle with yourself. Recognize that you suffered a loss and must give yourself time to grieve. Accept that you feel guilty for not being able to save her, but also recognize that rescuing her was not in your power. You can talk to her family and express your sadness and support for them. You should talk to other friends who are missing her. Sharing your feelings during this time is helpful.
If you find that you cannot shake your emotions, you may want to seek professional help. Talking to a therapist may help you process the range of feelings that you are having and help you to find peace. Read more about surviving a loved one's suicide here: mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/end-of-life/in-depth/suicide/art-20044900.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I am horrible with names, and I rarely remember what people are called even when I have known them for some time. I know this is nothing to be proud of, and I'm not. It's just true.
The most uncomfortable thing happened the other day. I was at an event, and a guy who lives in my building was there. He came up to say hello, and I greeted him. I was talking with a group of other people, but I couldn't remember his name, so I did not introduce him. There was an awkward moment, and he just walked away. What could I have done differently? -- Forgetful
DEAR FORGETFUL: Rather than snubbing your neighbor, you could have introduced him to the group by saying that he is your neighbor and inviting them to introduce themselves to each other. Yes, that could be slightly awkward, but it would also be inclusive.
In some instances, you may have to admit that you don't remember someone's name in order to complete an introduction. In such cases, just be transparent. Apologize for not remembering the person's name, ask what it is and make the introduction.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been working on a huge project with a new company, and so far, it has been going well. In the coming week I will be working on-site for several days. As I was ramping up for the in-person visits, I discovered that my main contact was terminated. It was abrupt, and I am in shock. I do know another person at the company and have reached out to her to be my liaison, but I am worried that my contract may fizzle out. What else can I do? -- Lost in Space
DEAR LOST IN SPACE: Thank goodness you have another contact there. Talk to this person immediately, and find out what steps she recommends for you to secure your relationship with the company. If you have a contract, read it carefully to learn if there is guidance on how the terms should be implemented when there is a change.
Get testimonials from any employees with whom you have already engaged. This may help you to maintain your position even after your contact is gone. Finally, act as if the work will continue, and stay closely aligned with the woman you know. Ask her to guide you through the coming days.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I always carry a handkerchief because my parents told me that it was proper. It has come in handy over the years. What I'm unsure about is what should happen to a handkerchief after I offer it to someone in need. A friend recently had a sneezing spell, and the only "tissue" available was my handkerchief. I offered it to her, but I have never gotten it back. Do I ask her for it? -- Bye-Bye Handkerchief
DEAR BYE-BYE HANDKERCHIEF: In a perfect world, your friend would launder your handkerchief and return it to you. You can ask her if she still has it, and if so, request it back. But one unintentional side effect of your good manners and generosity is that you may end up losing a handkerchief or two along the way.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a pretty busy person. I have a full-time job and a full social calendar, and I love spending the free time I do have just relaxing. My friend recently brought up the idea of joining a book club with him. I love to read and find that it relaxes me when I'm stressed, so my initial reaction was to say yes. When I went home after accepting the offer, I started to doubt my decision. I read when I feel like it, not when I'm told to. I'm afraid that being part of this book group with make me feel obligated to finish the book on a timeline, which I'm not sure I'll like. Have you had any experience with book groups? Does being in one ruin the relaxing experience of reading? -- Book Club Newbie, Akron, Ohio
DEAR BOOK CLUB NEWBIE: Many people enjoy book clubs because they create the opportunity for a social experience designed around a particular topic. If you like talking about the storyline, plot, character development and other aspects of books, you may enjoy this type of engagement. These clubs work best when the size of the group is manageable -- no more than a dozen or so participants. They tend to meet once a month or even once a quarter. Yes, the discussion can veer toward the social, but the books do get discussed. You should try it out.
DEAR HARRIETTE: Two years ago, I met an older woman in my town's deli. She was eating alone and having trouble reading the check, so I went over to help her. We got to talking and became close friends. Ever since that day we meet up once a month for lunch. She is very old and needs help walking. She rarely gets out because she is afraid she will fall, so I like to take her out from time to time. I think she is great company, and I love listening to her fascinating stories.
My girlfriend finds the elderly woman rude and does not like that I spend time with her. I enjoy going to these monthly lunches, but I can see how it is a little odd. Do you think it's normal, and should I continue my friendship with this woman? -- Friends With an Elderly Woman, San Jose, California
DEAR FRIENDS WITH AN ELDERLY WOMAN: I think it is wonderful that you are spending quality time with this woman. Too often, when people grow old, they do not have family or friends around to keep them company. It is admirable that you noticed this woman and struck up a friendship with her.
In terms of managing your girlfriend, tell her you are sorry that she and your elderly friend do not click. Stop inviting her to join you during your dates. Do not lie, though. Just make it clear that you enjoy supporting this woman, and you realize that she has come to rely on you.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My father passed away seven years ago. After he died, my mother came to live with my family and me. Because my children have essentially grown up with her living with them since they were babies, their relationship is nothing less than amazing. My kids look to her for advice and support, and they love her dearly. Unfortunately, last year my mother was diagnosed with dementia, and in the past few months it has become progressively worse.
With my husband and me working full-time jobs and the kids in school, we have reached a place where we are unable to give her the care that she needs. I have made the decision to move her into a nursing home; however, I am so scared to tell my kids. They are still relatively young and have not dealt with her dementia diagnosis very well. They feel that if we send her to a nursing home, we are "giving up on her." How do I get my kids to understand that in order to help her, we need to move her? I am worried that her daily absence will hurt my kids. -- Dementia in the Family, Baltimore
DEAR DEMENTIA IN THE FAMILY: You have to control the narrative. Explain to your children and your mother that it is time for her to live in a place that offers more support and that you will see her frequently. Do your best to establish a regular visitation schedule. Perhaps every Saturday or Sunday, you and the children can go to visit your mother. Bring her to your home for a family meal on the weekends. This consistency should help everyone. You will also need to talk to your children about the inevitable memory loss that is affecting your mother. Do not scare them, but let them know that your mother may be forgetful sometimes. Make sure they know that this doesn't mean she has stopped loving them.
Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to email@example.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106