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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: The letter from the man in Olympia, Wash., whose wife has Alzheimer's disease and doesn't even recognize him prompts me to write. Although he continues to visit her in the nursing home, he feels guilty about seeing the widow next door to him.

My husband and I were also childhood sweethearts, and we have just celebrated our 46th anniversary, too. As you reach our age, thoughts of just this sort of possibility occur.

It would pain me terribly if I thought for one minute that should I get Alzheimer's or some other debilitating disease, my dear husband would feel that he must also give up the rest of his life to sit by my bedside watching me "in a world of my own."

Obviously, this man was always a thoughtful and loving husband during their marriage. Perhaps he should try to imagine how he would feel if he were the ill partner. Would he begrudge her having some joy and comfort while he was oblivious to the world? I think not.

Please, Abby, tell that man he has no reason to feel guilty. If his wife could speak, she would give him her blessing and thank him for the last 46 years. -- MARY JANE SEGERSON

DEAR MARY JANE: I told the husband that a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a grief counselor or clergyperson could help him absolve his feelings of guilt, and that an Alzheimer's support group could also be helpful. But your letter gets right to the heart of the dilemma. Although not everyone is as enlightened as you, I am with you 100 percent. This does not reduce the responsibility of the well spouse to ensure that the loved one receives the best and most compassionate care possible. But life is a gift that should be enjoyed.

DEAR ABBY: My husband and I work in a small family business. A female employee spends a great deal of time in my husband's office. (I'll call her Sally.) She flatters him constantly and often brings him food. Although Sally is married and has children, my husband has gone to her home several times to assist her with setting up her computer.

Last week, we were all having lunch. Sally sat across from my husband and I noticed that her foot was touching his leg!

When I left work one evening, I forgot something and had to return to my office. My husband was in Sally's office, and I overheard him telling her not to sit next to him at lunch because I was jealous! (She was laughing!) I was enraged that he would discuss my confidences with this woman, and I later confronted him about it. He apologized for this disloyalty.

Abby, I am in a dilemma, as I must work with this woman daily. I am her supervisor. All the strange comments she has made in the past seem to indicate that there is more than just friendship between her and my husband. To make matters worse, she's unhappy in her marriage and several of her friends are going through divorces. I don't want to lose my husband. Any advice would help. -- FRANTIC

DEAR FRANTIC: First, have a long talk with your husband. Show him this letter and tell him you wrote it.

Sally may or may not be a threat to your marriage. You and your husband should have counseling, because whatever is going on could not be happening without his willingness to tolerate it.

Years ago, I would have recommended that you and your husband find this woman a job elsewhere. But in the '90s, a lawsuit for sexual discrimination or sexual harassment could be more expensive than a divorce, and turn your lives upside down.

Abby shares more of her favorite, easy-to-prepare recipes. To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, More Favorite Recipes, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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