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Originally published Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 6:15 AM

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Carolyn Hax / What to say during time of loss

Readers give advice on a range of topics, including reaching out during a loss, how to answer loaded questions, and dealing with non-RSVPs as a host.

Syndicated columnist

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On finding compassion for the awkward neighbor kid: "" ...Having friends... MORE
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Dear Carolyn

While I’m away, readers give the advice.

On a perfect thing to say when you don’t know what to say:

The nicest handwritten note I received from a pupil read, “Mrs. (K.), I don’t know what to say in light of your recent loss, but I was taught always to say something in such a case, so, ‘I’m sorry.’ ” I still have it 17 years later. It was such a small gesture, but the kindest of all.

— K.

On finding compassion for the awkward neighbor kid:

Parents of young children often look harshly at the behavior of older children out of inexperience. Much like childless couples who judge the parenting of others, parents of 5-and-unders may not realize their little sweeties will be 9 someday too, and 9-year-olds are awkward and just learning to handle social skills with much independence. A kid may be a brat, or he may just be not acting his best in your yard. Having friends in different stages of parenting can be a treasured source of learning experiences.

— Anonymous

On “Are you dating/getting married/having children/having another child”-type questions:

A friend once suggested the greatest reply to all loaded questions: “It is on the to-do list.” I use it frequently.

— S.

On the prevalence of sexual assault:

The Jan. 7, 2014 column ( included a lovely, supportive letter to a rape survivor that also stated, “I’ve never been raped nor do I think I know anyone who has been.”

YES YOU DO. Sexual assault and sexual violence is visited on 1/4 to 1/3 of the women in this country. Saying you don’t know anyone who has survived sexual assault is willful blindness. Implying this is unusual also inadvertently distances and isolates the survivor.

We all know survivors of sexual assault. They might be your daughter, mother, colleague, boss, running partner, personal trainer, taxi driver. It is statistically impossible that you don’t.

— A.

On the stress of trying to plan parties amid a non-RSVP’ing epidemic:

I throw an annual open house, and used to get very anxious when I hadn’t heard from everyone before notifying my caterer. I started making polite contacts with some of these invitees. I discovered that many had delayed replying because they were unsure of their plans.

This year I omitted “RSVP” on my invitation, and asked people to contact me by X date “even if you aren’t sure of your plans.” So far this simple change has had the desired results. Even though my attendance total will never be guaranteed, the whole point of my party is for my guests and me to have fun and be relaxed.

— Unstressed Hostess

On the scrutiny that comes with illness:

After coronary surgery at age 39, I felt so conspicuous. I’d be doing OK, not thinking about it, and I’d get the widened eyes and the “How ARE you?” that would ruin my day.

But I never felt comfortable saying I didn’t want to discuss it to kind people I barely knew.

One day I accidentally found the solution: I snapped back, “I’m fine, how are YOU???” Fortunately the person missed my upset tone and began talking about her own life.

From then on I could ask calmly. No one ever changed the topic back to me afterward.

— By the Way, How Are YOU

Email Carolyn at and follow her on Facebook at Find her columns daily at

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