Dear Amy: I just Googled a childhood friend for the first time, and discovered that he died by suicide 12 years ago when he was 24, after serving with the military in Iraq.
My friend and I hadn’t spoken since high school. His birthday was a memorable one (10/10), and so I thought of him every October 10. I’d just notice the date and think, “Happy birthday, my old friend.”
Now that I know what happened, I’d like to write a condolence letter to his younger brother, who I knew in high school, but with whom I’d also lost contact afterward.
I’m hesitating. He appears to have a successful life now (good for him).
Is it wrong to send a condolence letter 12 years later? Maybe he moved on and doesn’t want to be reminded of this pain. (It’s not certain if it was suicide or an accidental gun discharge, according to the news article.)
Since this might stir up painful memories, I wonder if it’s better to say nothing at all and let it be? On the other hand, might he be touched to know someone cares about his brother? Or is that selfish altruism? I really don’t know.
— Postmortem Grief
Dear Grief: I find it hard to imagine that anyone ever truly “moves on” from the sudden death of a sibling. It is never, ever “wrong” to contact someone to express fond memories of a friend.
I suggest that you should write to this younger brother, tell him that you were thinking of your friend, as you do every year on his birthday, and say that you have just learned of his passing.
There is no need to mention or question how this friend died. Simply share a memory or two of the two brothers from your youth, express your condolences to him and his family, and encourage the brother to get in touch with you if he’d ever like to.
There are a number of charities serving our nation’s veterans. You might consider donating money or time in your friend’s memory to K9s For Warriors (K9sforwarriors.org), which provides service animals to servicemembers experiencing challenges related to their military service.
This is from their website: “Determined to end veteran suicide, K9s for Warriors provides highly trained service dogs to military veterans suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and/or military sexual trauma.”
These service dogs are adopted from shelters and bond tightly to their humans — with both canines and humans essentially rescuing each other.
Dear Amy: This is a little bit strange, perhaps. But every year my (Protestant) church hosts a “Blue Christmas” service. This service has always had a big impact on me, allowing me to basically unleash the sadness that seems to overtake me every Christmas.
Our pastor just announced that he will not conduct a “Blue Christmas” service this year. The reason? He has endured several personal losses of his own this year, and he quite honestly told the congregation that he doesn’t feel able to lead this service.
Anyway, I’m not sure how to react to this, and I’m wondering if you have any ideas?
— Am I Blue
Dear Blue: This situation is a reminder that clergy members are people, too. Sometimes, even they cannot rise above their own vulnerable humanity in order to serve others.
“Blue Christmas” services are also known as “Longest Night” services — and are usually held on or near the Winter Solstice. I have attended many of these services, designed for those who mourn, and I agree that they can be solemn, dignified, quiet and comforting.
I have two suggestions: You might ask your clergy member (and others in your congregation) to travel to another nearby church to attend this service as a group.
Alternatively, you could find a service online, and work with your trustees to broadcast the service into your church’s sanctuary (or watch it on your own at home).
Dear Amy: “Stuck” wanted to go on a trip with her (divorced) sister, but her husband didn’t want her to. A “girls’ trip” can often mean looking for guys.
If that’s what the divorcee has in mind, the husband may have legitimate concerns about his wife going on such a trip.
I wonder if the wife would feel comfortable with her husband going on a “boys’ trip” with a divorced relative or friend?
Dear Wondering: A group of women hiking in the Scottish Highlands doesn’t sound like a “looking for guys” kind of trip. This husband was overreacting.
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