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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: This is in response to the letter signed "Lesson Learned." You told the sister who wrote it that it is normal for survivors of suicide to experience guilt.

Abby, she didn't have time for a cup of tea because she "didn't have money" to go to a cafe! I'll bet the suicidal sister would have been grateful for a friendly cup of tea at her sister's. Her twin nieces would have distracted her from her own problems. The suicidal sister asked for one Saturday night. Again, the sister refused. I'll bet every Saturday night she spends with her husband will be haunted by her sister's request. I should hope she feels guilt -- not for what she did, but for what she didn't do!

Even though I agree that the suicidal sister was responsible for her own life, she obviously felt very estranged from her family. Perhaps an outstretched hand could have made a difference. Her dead sister made no unreasonable demands. The sister who wrote is feeling guilty because she is!

Abby, you were far too easy on this lady. I'll bet you got a lot of flak on this. -- SANDY IN STUYVESANT, N.Y.

DEAR SANDY: "Lesson Learned" was courageous enough to publicly admit her insensitivity and lack of understanding of her sister's needs. She is clearly suffering, and I saw no need to further chastise her for something that cannot be changed.

Yes, I did receive some flak for my answer. However, I also received some mail that was very helpful. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: I saw the letter about the poor young woman who suffered from depression and chronic fatigue syndrome. I feel deeply for the sister who ignored her sister's call for help. When "Lesson Learned" told her sister that the younger woman didn't know what "chronic-living-life-fatigue is," it was clear that she did not understand that chronic fatigue syndrome is a real disease, for which diagnostic criteria were established by the Centers for Disease Control in 1988. The disease is insidious, leaving the patient constantly exhausted, depressed, and burdened with a myriad of problems.

Many medical professionals do not believe that the disease is caused by a virus, an enzyme deficiency, or any of the other scientific reasons that validate this as a physical disease. They believe it to be "mental" or nonexistent. Because of this, a vast majority of those who have it go undiagnosed. Many patients do not receive the proper medical care because of their physician's lack of interest in a disease with no known cause or cure, so it's passed off as hypochrondria or a mental disorder.

Suicide among those afflicted with chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS) is high. "Lesson Learned" was devastated by the death of her sister, but it is doubtful she could have done anything to prevent it.

Readers who want more information should write to the Arizona CFIDS and Advocacy Institute, 1125 W. Baseline, No. 212, Mesa, Ariz. 85210. -- THOMAS E. SMITH, PH.D., MESA, ARIZ.

DEAR READERS: You can also contact the CFIDS Association of America Inc., P.O. Box 220398, Charlotte, N.C. 28222-0398 (enclose a self-addressed, stamped (55 cents) envelope) or call toll-free: 1-800-442-3437.

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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