Barbara: Dear Abby,
I am very sorry to hear you’ve passed away. Especially knowing that your long illustrious life ended with Alzheimer’s. I hope you didn’t suffer too much, and that your loving family didn’t suffer too much letting you go.
When I heard the news, I knew right away that I had to write. I didn’t immediately take stock of the last time I read your column (which was long before your daughter took it over), but I did have a visceral memory from my fraught adolescence of me pouring over those letters to and from you. I would skip past the dire world news and go straight to your advice column. In many ways, that ritual was much like my experience reading blogs now—unrelated people coming together from far and wide to share their humbling, difficult, complicated, tragic, nasty, romantic, sad, confused, loving experiences living in this complex world. For the first time in my life, I saw people bare their souls. For a naïve, inexperienced, soon-to-be woman like me, it seemed impossible that people would be so open and honest, revealing hearts and lives I either related to with every fibre of my being, or ones I was fascinated to discover, or ones I hoped I’d never ever have to encounter.
How did you do it? You were so brave and honest. You were funny. You said things that didn’t offend me, that opened my eyes. You didn’t pander or patronize. You shot from the hip. You were gracious and decent. Wasn’t it hard, exhausting, to be so wise and patient? I don’t think so—because we never heard that it had been either one or the other. You were graceful and kind about your role as therapist to the world (aka North America). You showed us by example that we could learn from our mistakes and change our views in a changing world. You showed us we didn’t need to hide our mistakes and fears behind closed doors, but that we could come out and share them with others so they could learn from them too.
If not for you and the trend you began and the example you set, why, none of us might know how to do this online/internet/social media thing with any social grace. You led the vanguard, baby. You showed the way it ought to be done. With kindness and compassion and good common sense.
Thank you very sincerely from the bottom of my heart for teaching me so much about the human experience. R.I.P.
(Dear Readers, if you don’t know to whom I’m referring, Dear Abby was/is a daily advice column that ran from the late 50s to present day. Pauline Phillips wrote it until the early 2000s until her daughter took it over.)
Deb: Dear Abby,
You spoke to a generation, nay, several generations about brave and bold gentility. You were of your time and beyond your time. Rest in Peace.