DEAR ABBY: I need help! My mother died when I was a little girl. Then Dad remarried. My grandma and aunt always ask if they can spend time with me. My dad always says no. And the only time I get to see them is at my birthday party. I miss them so much. What do I do? -- SAD GIRL IN CALIFORNIA

DEAR SAD GIRL: You let your grandmother and aunt know that you love them and think about them, even though you cannot see them as often as you would like. If they have computers, you can e-mail them. If they don't, you can create original greeting cards and send them. It's sad that your father feels the way he does, but you can still reach out to your maternal relatives during your time apart.

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DEAR ABBY: We all hear that it's hard work maintaining a good marriage or parenting an adolescent. However, really small but loving gestures often have the most impact.

My college roommate's father is a wonderful example of that. Every night at the dinner table, he thanks his wife for the meal she just served. And every night at bedtime, he kisses the back of his daughter's hand and tells her that he loves her.

Is it any wonder that their family doesn't complain of feeling unappreciated or unloved? I feel privileged to be a part of their "second family." -- PRIVILEGED IN BALTIMORE

DEAR PRIVILEGED: The gestures you have described are not "small." They are important messages that spouses and children need to hear. Yes, actions speak louder than words -- and expressions of affection and gratitude do no one any good if they're hoarded.

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DEAR ABBY: I have been seeing "Ted" for a year. He was married for 33 years and has been divorced for four. Ted told me he loves me and wants to marry me, but because he's an honest man, he has also told me he still loves his ex-wife and would go back to her if she would have him.

Ted has grown children, and when there are family celebrations -- birthdays, weddings, etc. -- he expects me to attend with him. His ex comes to these affairs, and I feel like I'm being used as a buffer to help him handle the pain of being around her. I told Ted I'd feel far more comfortable at these family functions if his ex would bring an escort. His reply: "I don't think I could handle that." Other than that, we have an excellent relationship.

Abby, I lived with an alcoholic for 25 years. I have had enough grief to last a lifetime. Besides, I'm really not interested in marriage. I have discussed this with my daughter. She said, "Write to Dear Abby, and see what she has to say." -- HURTING IN OHIO

DEAR HURTING: If the relationship was "excellent," you would not have signed your letter "Hurting in Ohio." Ask yourself why you are allowing a man who is still in love with his ex-wife to put you in uncomfortable situations. Then ask yourself why you endure feeling used. Once you have the answers to those questions, you can decide whether you want more of the same, or would prefer to look for a man who is emotionally available.

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CONFIDENTIAL TO FRUSTRATED FUND-RAISER: Don't blame yourself; when it comes to giving to charity, some people stop at nothing -- and others give nothing.

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For everything you need to know about wedding planning, order "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." Send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby, Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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