Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.
DEAR AMY: I have been through a lot with a childhood friend of mine. Three years ago her 25-year-old son was found dead. He drank heavily and had gotten in a fight with his live-in girlfriend. His death was violent. The authorities ruled it as a suicide but my friend thinks that the girl murdered him. Every time we get together our visit starts out well and then she starts talking about how that girl needs to pay for what she did. She starts telling me the story again, (I have heard it a hundred times), and it always ends with us both crying. This makes me very uncomfortable. I love her to death and I cannot imagine the pain she is going through, but I get to where I don't want to be around her. Our husbands are good friends and I keep making excuses not to be around them. How can I help her to find closure and peace? I have suggested counseling and she says it wouldn't help. Please help me.
DEAR DEVASTATED: This is truly tragic, illustrating how a traumatic death continues to resonate in widening circles over time. I'm assuming that the police investigated this death and have ruled out any involvement on the girlfriend's part.
Forget about closure. When a parent loses a child to suicide, there is no such thing as closure. The most a parent can hope for is the ability to cope day-to-day, so that the loss gets easier to bear over time.
Your friend definitely needs professional help. She may be avoiding it in part because she needs to cling to her own ideas of how her son died. Suicide is the hardest kind of death to bear; the unanswered questions rattle around and are never resolved. Family members of a suicide death are at an increased risk of depression and suicide themselves.
To preserve your friendship, you should be honest with your friend. When her ruminating starts, interrupt the cycle by putting a hand on her arm and offer her a hug. "I'm so sorry. I feel powerless. Please get help." Offer to take your friend to a survivor group of parents whose children have died. Check The Compassionate Friends website for the location for a local bereavement group (compassionatefriends.org). Grief is isolating. Please don't give up on her.
DEAR AMY: It's road trip time! We will be traveling across the country and reconnecting with several old friends at different stops along the way. These are people we haven't seen in quite a long time. We'll be staying at hotels. Is there a clear but respectful way to communicate our preference that when we visit, we'd love to just hang out with them in their home and eat leftovers or BBQ hot dogs -- rather than going out to eat? Our friends will insist on paying but we'll be driving far and prefer a break from eating out. The point of our visit is to relax and reconnect with our friends -- and not incur a restaurant bill from them.
Simple Pleasures in LA
DEAR SIMPLE PLEASURES: This is a little tricky, because you have to take into account that some people might not want to host you in their home. Going out might seem much easier and could be a treat for them. Otherwise, you should feel free to say, "We're eating out a lot on our road trip and so I'm wondering if it would be OK if we could just visit with you at your house? We'd be happy with hot dogs and leftovers and simply want to enjoy your company. We'll pick up ingredients and help with the cooking, too -- if that would be helpful." If your friends demur, accept their choice.
DEAR AMY: I have the perfect solution for "K," who expressed frustration of dining with people who constantly check their phones. When my friends and I go out, we put all of our phones in the center of the table. The first person to reach for the phone gets to pay the bill.
DEAR BEEN THERE: Several readers have suggested this brilliant remedy to a modern problem.