The Washington Post

Carolyn Hax: Contacting an estranged friend after a tragedy; explaining 9 cats


Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I had a good friend in college, “Lucy”; we were inseparable, in each other’s weddings, etc. Over the past two years we’ve had somewhat of a falling-out, and I’ve kept my distance from her for a number of reasons.

Well, I just found out Lucy’s mother killed Lucy’s father and then tried to kill herself, and is now facing murder charges. How do I even respond?

I knew her parents fairly well, but I haven’t spoken to her in months, and the last time we spoke it was cold and unfriendly. Is there even a way to reach out?

(Nick Galifianakis)

How to Help?

Wow. Of course, yes, there’s a way to reach out — with genuine grief and concern for her. You just need to do it without the strings of expectation attached. By that, I mean expecting her to be grateful to hear from you, expecting to be helpful, or expecting trauma to supersede or erase whatever reasons you had to distance yourself.

She might throw your gesture back in your face or regard your involvement as more harmful than good, and these are things you can’t predict. Don’t protest your treatment, either, if she responds by lashing out. Just make your overture and follow Lucy’s lead.

Re: How to help:

It’s been my experience that when people go through a tragedy as awful as this one, the little squabbles of their past are put into perspective. Carolyn was good to point out that Lucy might not respond, which is certainly possible. But also consider that you know all the parties involved in this without being involved in their lives, which makes you a great person for Lucy to confide in and a presence she might really appreciate.


It is a possibility, thanks, and I hope it turns out to be true. Sometimes, however, the awfulness is too big for someone to handle, at least in the near term, and so a little squabble suddenly becomes a convenient, more manageable place to divert all of the anger and sadness. The friend might quickly become Lucy’s pinata.

I still think the letter writer has to try, but with no fixed hopes on the type of response Lucy has.

Dear Carolyn:

I am a sucker for a stray or abused cat and as a result, my husband and I have taken in nine cats. It’s not that I ever meant to adopt nine cats, but rather some of my cats have medical or behavioral needs that make them unlikely to ever be adopted (we are able to care for their veterinary needs).

I work very hard to maintain my home and keep it clean and cat-odor-free. Even family members with cat allergies do not seem to have issues visiting our house.

My question is: How to react to people who, when they ask how many cats I have, react as if I am a pathological hoarder with a filthy house? I could simply lie about the number of cats, but it makes me feel as if I have something to hide, which I don’t.

Crazy Cat Lady

Let them think what they like; it’s their loss, since you sound like a pretty cool person. Lucky cats.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at



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