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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I did a careless thing and I don't know what to do next. My mother and I have kept a big secret (I will not divulge the secret) within the family since I was a small child.

This secret has involved numerous lies to outsiders. I asked Mother for permission to discuss the secret with my psychiatrist, and she agreed. We were both comfortable with this, knowing that psychiatrists cannot reveal what their patients discuss.

I did not ask for permission to discuss it with my support group. However, I did discuss it -- and now I'm worried that one of the other members of the group will mention it to someone outside, and my indiscretion will come back to haunt me.

Mother does not know I did this. She and I are extremely close and I know she senses my nervousness. My question: Should I confess to Mother and clear my conscience, or should I pretend that nothing happened? This is tearing me up inside. I feel physically ill and I'm extremely depressed. My mother has been through enough and I don't want to hurt her, but I cannot forget what I have done. -- FEELING GUILTY

DEAR FEELING GUILTY: It is unlikely that your secret will be discussed outside your therapy group, where generally, confidentiality is required. Discuss your fears with your psychiatrist, and ask him or her to make an announcement reiterating confidentiality at the next group session. Since you feel that your mother would be upset by your disclosure, say nothing to her. Then forgive yourself, and let it go.

DEAR ABBY: I was baffled by your response to "Stressed Out in Whitehall, Pa.," who wrote to you concerning a piano that her sister had given her seven years before and now wanted returned. You practically ignored the piano issue, which was the point of the woman's letter, advising her to return it -- and then went on to give her an abundance of information about the chronic fatigue syndrome she mentioned she was suffering from.

Although I'm sure "Stressed Out" appreciated your concern for her health, she wrote to you about the PIANO. Why should she, immediately upon her sister's request, return a piano that was given to her and that she had kept for seven years?

You excused the sister's rude actions by stating that she may have been unaware of "Stressed Out's" illness. Regardless of her health, if she still plays the piano and derives pleasure from it, I see no reason why she should give it up. The piano was given to her, and her sister will just have to learn to deal with it. -- A FELLOW PIANIST IN HILLSBOROUGH, CALIF.

DEAR FELLOW PIANIST: "Stressed Out" said her sister "insists that she told me seven years ago that she was giving me the piano with the stipulation that if one of her children or grandchildren should decide some time in the future that they wanted to play, I would return it."

As a fellow pianist, you certainly must be aware that a good piano is a big-ticket item. Rather than create ill will on the part of her sister, her niece and her grandniece -- as well as to keep peace in the family -- I advised her to return the disputed piano. I stand by my answer.

For Abby's favorite family recipes, send a long, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Cookbooklet No. 1, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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