Dear Abby: Two months ago my youngest sister called me - collect again - sobbing that she felt alone and frightened in the world. She asked if we could meet for tea or if I could visit her. As a mother of twins and self-employed, I reminded her that having tea in a cafe is a luxury I cannot afford.

Last month she called me again. She wanted to spend Saturday night with us and make a pancake breakfast "for old times' sake." She told me she missed me and felt blue. (Abby, Saturday nights are reserved for my husband.)Two weeks ago, my sister invited me to a matinee - her treat. She tearfully informed me that she was not sleeping well (she was being treated for depression and chronic fatigue syndrome). I told her, "Working people don't go to matinees, but when you get your life together, you'll know what 'chronic-living-life-fatigue' is."

My little sister will never call again. She took her life last week.

My sister had some of the best medical help available, and I know she was ultimately responsible for her own life. But I also know that I'll never again brush her hair out of her sleepy blue eyes or trade my blouse for her mauve lipstick, or tell her she's not fat - she's beautiful.

Most of all, I will never forgive myself for not realizing how suicidal my sister was. Perhaps this letter will prevent others from making the mistakes I made.

- Lesson Learned in the Worst of Ways

Dear Lesson Learned: Please accept my sincere sympathy on the tragic loss of your sister. It is vital that you understand it's common for those who survive the suicide of a loved one to experience guilt, and to feel that somehow they could have prevented the tragedy.

True, agreeing to get together with your sister when she asked would have given you different memories, but in all likelihood, it would not have prevented her from taking her life. Her troubles were far deeper than a social visit could have remedied.

I urge you and anyone who is struggling to cope with the suicide of a loved one to find a support group. Any crisis center or suicide hotline can refer you to a group in your area.

Please write to me again. May God bless you - and he will if you have faith.

Dear Abby: My best friend and I just returned from a week of hiking along the Washington coast. On our last night, we stayed at a fancy lodge to rest before returning home. My friend suggested that next year he bring his wife and we invite another couple to join us so we could rent a cabin overlooking the coast. Since I am single, that means five of us would be occupying the cabin.

My friend suggested we split the bill three ways. I said the bill should be split five ways. He became upset at my suggestion and hasn't spoken to me since we returned home.

Thinking I may have been out of line, I asked my family and close work associates how this bill should be split. My question has generated quite a debate, with only my brother and two co-workers agreeing with me. We are all waiting for your thoughts on how to split the bill - and I will abide by your advice.

- Alan in Montesano, Wash.

Dear Alan: If you are on a tight budget, "take the fifth." Otherwise, assume one-third of the expense.

For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more attractive person, order "How to Be Popular." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

Universal Press Syndicate

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