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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: What is it with people who do not want to go to a nursing home when they get old? I often read about the anguish families go through when an oldster can no longer live independently. Younger family members have their own ordeals, but old folks seem to hang onto houses they can't keep up and mountains of accumulated "treasures" of questionable value. They see only two options: Stay put, or have the kids take them in.

My aunt, however, was another story. She wasn't wealthy, but had a little money and was smart with what she had. She was widowed at 50, worked until retirement, then set about to enjoy herself. One fine day in her 70s, she informed me that she had visited two retirement homes and knew where she intended to move when she needed looking after. She bought the dress for her funeral, picked out the casket, chose the hymns and helped the preacher write her eulogy. "Now," she proclaimed, "I'm just going to enjoy life until the end." What an inspiration!

Abby, most people are far too attached to material things for their own good. I suppose giving up my material things will also be difficult, but the hardest thing for me would be giving up my dogs. But then, why would I want to be schlepping out to walk a pooch every morning and evening when I am old and feeble?

As for insisting on dying at home (as if that's some tender and sentimental thing to do), it's unfair to saddle loved ones with such difficult and depressing circumstances.

I recently read that about 30 percent of people would choose suicide over a nursing home! Are they nuts? Give me clean, pleasant surroundings for my final days.

While my attitude may strike some as insensitive and cold, actually I love life and intend to live it to the fullest, like my aunt who never made it to the nursing home. At age 83, she had a massive stroke while boarding a tour bus and died almost immediately.

Why is it that so many who say, "I don't want to be a burden," do everything to become one by imposing on relatives or forcing decisions on others when they are no longer able to live alone?

I know this is long, but I think it bears an important message. -- LIVING IT UP 'TIL THE END

DEAR LIVING: Your aunt is the kind of role model we all aspire to be, active and vital to the end -- and you are not far behind. However, please don't be so judgmental of those who are hesitant to give up their independence and familiar surroundings. Many people fear the unknown, and as they age, become less able to adjust to new situations. Few are eager to surrender control of their lives -- and that is what a nursing home symbolizes to many.

Assisted-living facilities that offer varying levels of care for seniors while permitting them to continue pursuing their interests and activities are far more attractive alternatives. Residents can maintain their independence assured that should they become ill or need long-term care, they will have access to health-care services while remaining in a familiar environment.

Seniors should carefully investigate all the options before making decisions about their "December" years.

DEAR ABBY: Please inform me of the proper etiquette. A friend was married for three days, and then the marriage was annulled. What should she do with the wedding gifts? -- WONDERING IN TUCSON

DEAR WONDERING: Since the marriage lasted only three days and was then annulled, the wedding gifts belong to the bride and groom. Whether they return any presents depends on their personal feelings about it. The bride, however, should return any jewelry or heirlooms she received from the groom's family.

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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