Dear Prudence

Help! An Old Friend Killed Himself. Should I Reach Out to His Girlfriend?

Dear Prudence answers more of your questions—only for Slate Plus members.

Every week, Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.

Q. A friend’s passing: I went to a very small college about 14 years ago. I joined the theater department, which was also small and very close-knit. I transferred my junior year and lost touch with those friends until I got a Facebook account and reconnected with many of the people I had once worked with years ago. One of them was “Billy.” As it turned out, we had a lot in common, and over the last year and a half we’ve enjoyed pretty regular conversations about a few mutual interests. Though I hadn’t actually seen him in years, I really liked our (strictly platonic) chats and always looked forward to hearing from him. Unfortunately, about two months ago, Billy died by suicide. The circumstances were such that he made the local news where he lived. I and several of our old friends were shocked, of course, but I don’t think any of them were in touch as frequently as I was. When I heard, I was quite taken aback and several times since his passing have found myself sad thinking about how I’ll never be able to chat with him again.

At the time of his very sudden and traumatic death, Billy had a serious, long-term girlfriend. I have gone to her page a few times with the intent of sending a message of condolence but am never sure I should. Her last post was shortly after his death, about not being able to deliver his eulogy like she wanted because she was too distraught. I am not sure if hearing from a friend of his would help or hurt, but Billy was a bit of an outsider and didn’t have an abundance of friends, and maybe it might be nice for her hear that there are people still thinking of him and really sorry he’s gone.

A: When in doubt, I think you should err on the side of letting someone’s grieving family know you’re thinking of them and had fond memories of the deceased. You may not hear back from her, but it would be kind and generous to send her a short message about how much you valued Billy’s friendship and were sorry to hear about his death.

Q. Don’t want to host the baby shower: My college friend, Peggy, is pregnant with her first child and is due in a few months. While Peggy and I used to be rather close—we were both in each other’s weddings—that’s no longer the case. After meeting her now husband, she’s had a personality shift, and really just isn’t as nice anymore. She flakes on social events and complains a lot, with most conversations now revolving around how difficult her life is (it’s not).

After chatting with a mutual acquaintance, she led me to believe that there’s an assumption I’ll be throwing Peggy’s baby shower. I really don’t want to. I threw Peggy’s bridal shower and bachelorette party, and don’t want to relive that stress. I know Peggy would give me a long list of guests, expect a Pinterest-perfect event, and demand I walk on eggshells around her mood and pouting. Last time, I had to play referee when she didn’t want to talk to guests and hold my tongue as she called their gifts too “bourgeoisie” after they had left. I have a bit of travel in the next two months, taking up some of those potential baby shower weekends, but what do I say if someone asks me if I’m throwing her baby shower? Everyone knows I love to host, but with both her mom and mother-in-law living in the same city, I almost want to blurt out, “Shouldn’t they throw the shower?” I don’t want to be mean, but I really don’t want to throw this shower. Do you have any suggestions about how I can gracefully respond?

A: “No, I’m not hosting the shower.” You haven’t been asked; you haven’t promised to; you’re under no obligation.