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updated: 12/23/2013 1:07 PM

How to keep someone who is seriously ill in your thoughts

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While I am off, readers offer their advice.

On ways to respond to a friend's serious illness:

On two occasions I have had friends with extended treatments for illnesses. Neither of them could be around people because of immunity issues and the treatments were exhausting.

In addition to occasional calls to find out how they were doing, I sent cards. But the cards were never "get well" or "thinking of you." I sent graduation cards, new baby cards, retirement cards, bar mitzvah cards, bon voyage cards, whatever odd card I could find. The result was the friends knew I was thinking of them and had a little laugh at the content. They both expressed how good it was to have good thoughts sent without a reminder of their illness.

K.

When I was in my last semester in college I became terribly ill and was eventually diagnosed with a severe form of rheumatoid arthritis. I lost a lot of "friends" who didn't know how to deal, and I didn't know how to tell them to help me. One friend, "Susie," helped me brush my teeth and eat, and held my hand while we walked when I feared I would fall.

Seven years later, on the day before Thanksgiving, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer and I was living eight hours away. I wrote her a card every week about the stupid things going on in my life, which is what she asked for, so the cards arrived every week on the day of her chemo treatment. When she switched to daily radiation, I switched to daily cards. I called once a week and checked in with her mom, who would tell me if Susie felt well enough to talk. Today Susie is cancer-free. And in 2011 I had a little girl and named her Susie, after the greatest woman I know.

S.

On teaching manners to kids:

We taught our daughter good manners by having Bad Manners Night.

I served spaghetti for maximum slurping, elbows were all over the table, we talked with food in our mouths, etc. It was completely hilarious and it went on for hours -- my husband and I kept thinking up more and more bad manners and demonstrating them with aplomb.

After that, we could say things like, ohhhhh, I see you put your knife in your mouth, you should remember to do that the next time we have Bad Manners Night. It totally worked. She would catch us, too, which was part of the fun.

We had Bad Manners Night a couple of times but decided to shut it down after we included my parents and Dad came to the table without a shirt. No way to top that.

A.

On weddings:

When my first husband and I announced to my parents that we were getting married, the following conversation ensued:

Mom: "You'll have to have the rehearsal dinner somewhere with dancing."

Dad: "I'll pay you a thousand dollars to elope."

Mom: "Oh Bruce. You'll have to have a breakfast too. For the people coming from out of town."

Dad: "Two thousand."

Mom: "What colors do you want for the reception?"

Dad: "Five thousand."

Me: "Sold."

We eloped to Greece.

Anonymous

• Email Carolyn at tellmewashpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

2013 The Washington Post

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