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DEAR ABBY

Loss for words of sympathy can be embarrassing

DEAR ABBY: I have a very hard time expressing my condolences. I panic and avoid sadness at all costs.

I’ll give you two examples: My boss’s husband died. (I worked for him, too.) Because I couldn’t talk to her, I avoided her like she had the plague.

Another time, a close friend’s son tried to commit suicide and severely injured himself. Instead of hugging my friend’s wife and asking how she was, I waved and went on like I was late for something.

I’m ashamed of my behavior. How can I stop myself from acting like this?

EMBARRASSED IN CALIFORNIA

DEAR EMBARRASSED: One way would be to ask yourself why you’re afraid of confronting someone’s sadness.

Is it fear that doing so will bring you to tears, and you want to avoid the emotion? Because you are feeling shame, I don’t think it is lack of empathy.

Being prepared in advance may help you reach out when a condolence is needed. All you have to say is, “I’m sorry for your loss,” or, “I’m sorry about what you’re going through.”

In some cases, the person may want to exchange a few words about it, but in others they won’t.

Please stop beating yourself up about this. Many people don’t know what to say, or blurt out something inappropriate because they’re uncomfortable with their own feelings.

DEAR ABBY: I work in a small bakery. We have a very nice baker here who is an older gentleman. When he gets frustrated, he will shout out, “Son-of-a-rabbit-chaser!” We all laugh and have asked him what that saying actually means. He told us his father used to say it.

Now the entire bakery is trying to guess what this saying’s true meaning and origin is. Can you help us out?

My boss seems to think a “rabbit chaser” is referring to a greyhound dog because they chase rabbits. I don’t think that makes sense.

I’m wondering if maybe it refers to a dirty old man chasing a younger woman, but that doesn’t really make sense either. If you can shed any light on this, we would all appreciate it.

DYING TO KNOW IN MILWAUKEE

DEAR DYING TO KNOW: According to my dictionary of American slang, when someone starts an exclamation with “son-of-a,” it is usually to express “anger, annoyance, amazement or disappointment.” The animals that usually chase rabbits are dogs. Your baker may have grown up hearing his father use the expression because back then gentlemen weren’t supposed to say “SOB” in front of ladies or impressionable children because it was considered too crude for tender ears. Ahh, those were the good old days.

DEAR ABBY: I am struggling with my friend. We’re both on the cross-country team, but I can run farther than she can. When she stops to walk, I continue to run, but when I do, it makes her very upset. She says I should stop running and walk with her.

But if I do that, I will lose valuable mileage.

I don’t know what to do. Should I wait for her?

SWIFTY IN NEVADA

DEAR SWIFTY: No, you shouldn’t. Each of you should proceed according to your ability. Please discuss this with your coach. I know she (or he) will back me up on this.

(Contact Dear Abby at DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, Calif., 90069.)

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