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by Abigail Van Buren

Free at Last of Cancer's Grip, Man Frees His Wife as Well

DEAR ABBY: More than a year ago, you published a letter from "Mac in Oregon." He told you about his life and his battle with cancer and said he hoped his wife would not spend her life alone after he died.

Well, Mac lost his battle on May 30. He fought long enough to show great courage, but not so long as to destroy those he loved. He was as unselfish in death as he was in life.

I knew Mac for 42 years. He taught me about life, love, truth and mercy, and left me (and others) with sweet memories and a treasure trove of lessons about what is truly important. He wasn't rich, powerful or famous, but he was my dad. Rest in peace, Mac -- we love you still. -- TIM McSWAIN, LINCOLN PARK, N.J.

DEAR TIM: My heartfelt sympathy to you and your family. And now, as a tribute to Mac, I'm printing your father's letter that appeared in my column on April 24, 1990:

DEAR ABBY: Thank you for supporting the widow who started dating three months after her husband died. You were right to say, "The time to show respect for one's spouse is while that spouse is living." Here is my story, and there must be thousands of husbands (and wives) who feel as I do.

My wife and I had many good years together. We raised kids, lived through joyous good times and horrendous bad times.

I am in my 18th month of chemotherapy for various cancers. I may live three months or five years. It doesn't matter how short or long my life will be, but it's reasonable to assume that I will die before my wife does. I have had a more rewarding and fruitful life than I probably deserve, for which I am grateful. But the day I die, my last thoughts will be regret that I shall leave her alone. It's sad to know that after so many months of total concentration on my welfare -- days of putting up with my misery and never letting me see her own misery -- her reward will be to be left alone.

Abby, she is not the kind of person who should be alone. So I tell her now, and I want my kids and all my friends to listen: "As soon as you possibly can after throwing my ashes off the boat into the Pacific, wrap the memories of our life together around you -- and begin a new life. If three days, or three months after I'm gone, you find a man who will love and cherish you for a few years as I have for so many -- go for it! You've earned it." -- "MAC" IN OREGON

DEAR MAC: Your sincerity rings true, leaving me uncharacteristically speechless. Thanks for a two-hankie letter.