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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: "Irritated in Ojai, Calif." was bothered by the fact that her husband has kept love letters from a previous girlfriend for more than 12 years and through three moves.

I've kept a previous boyfriend's love letters for 23 years and through seven moves. My husband has never asked me to dispose of them, and I wouldn't toss them even if he asked me to. These letters, along with other assorted keepsakes, help me define who I am now, based in part on who I've been in the past. The letters are nothing more than a record of a girl who was able to love and be loved -- an important concept to someone who felt unloved by her family.

In my mind, they affirm my ability to have a loving relationship with my husband. Please encourage "Irritated" not to stop at simply telling her husband how she feels about the letters (and then waiting for him to "toss them out"). Tell her to take the time to explore with him the reason he has kept those letters. It may be an eye-opening, soul-searching experience for them both! -- DARLENE IN REDONDO BEACH, CALIF.

DEAR DARLENE: While it may be a "soul-searching experience" for some, it could be something else for others.

People keep love letters for a variety of reasons, but it's a pretty good bet that there is an underlying sentimental reason. This is the private business of the keeper -- why must it be "explained"?

DEAR ABBY: I seldom miss your column in our local newspaper. Our family often discusses and learns from the letters you publish. You have helped us many times, as you have so many of your readers.

It was only after the death of my granddaughter that I saw the letter you printed from the 25-year-old woman thanking you for saving her life by printing the warning signs of an abusive partner. After seeing your column and recognizing that her boyfriend fit every warning you mentioned, she left him and started a new life.

How I wish our beautiful 19-year-old granddaughter had seen that list. She had been living with a young man for four months. Although her family didn't approve of him and had tried to dissuade her from living with him, they made an effort to accept him and welcome him into the family so they wouldn't lose their daughter.

After a particularly nasty quarrel, my granddaughter separated from the young man and returned to her family. A week after she left him, he brutally murdered her. Although she had been close to her parents (and all the family), she had never once confided to anyone the abusive relationship she was in. Her parents are devastated. Their lives have changed forever.

Our family would like to be able to help other young women in these circumstances, but we don't know how to get started, Abby. Do you have any suggestions? And would you please print the warning signs of an abuser again? -- TOO LATE IN TEXAS

DEAR TOO LATE: Please accept my deepest sympathy on the tragic loss of your granddaughter. I'm sure there are many ways in which you could help other young women in abusive relationships. The most obvious would be to explore what help is available to battered and homeless women in your city and find out what their immediate needs are -- shelter, clothing, funds to tide them over. You might also consider contacting victims' rights groups.

For anyone who might have missed it, I will publish the warning signs of an abusive partner tomorrow. Space limitations prevent me from doing it today.

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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