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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: A few years ago I lost my beautiful wife of 43 years. Her name was Bonnie Mae. I loved Bonnie more than I could ever express on paper, but because I was uncomfortable putting it into words, I seldom told her so.

There were several things Bonnie and I wanted to do and places we wanted to visit -- but somehow we always put them off until "next year," "next month" or some unspecified "later."

Unfortunately, life expectancy is not life assurance. After sitting at my wife's hospital bedside for 105 days, holding her hand and begging God not to take her from me, I suddenly found myself alone and experiencing searing regrets. I allowed the spoken endearments, the things to do and the shared adventures to be postponed until all I can do now is wail in anguish that those opportunities have been sealed off forever.

Readers, if you have someone you love dearly, please don't make the same mistakes I made. Tell her/him of your love often, and the things that you want to do and can afford to do -- do them now. Don't let that loved one slip away, your dreams unrealized because of procrastination, or you'll regret it bitterly the rest of your life, as I am doing now. -- GRIEVING FOR BONNIE MAE IN FLORIDA

DEAR GRIEVING: Please accept my condolences on the loss of your beloved wife. I have a feeling that Bonnie Mae knew how much you loved her, and she wouldn't want you to live with so much regret and sadness.

Your letter reminds me of a poem I have printed from time to time, and which is in my "Keepers" booklet, a collection of favorite poems, essays and letters. Its message bears repeating. Read on:


(Author Unknown)

If you are ever going to love me,

Love me now, while I can know

The sweet and tender feelings

Which from true affection flow.

Love me now

While I am living.

Do not wait until I'm gone

And then have it chiseled in marble,

Sweet words on ice-cold stone.

If you have tender thoughts of me,

Please tell me now.

If you wait until I am sleeping,

Never to awaken,

There will be death between us,

And I won't hear you then.

So, if you love me, even a little bit,

Let me know it while I am living

So I can treasure it.

DEAR ABBY: My brother and his longtime girlfriend are being married. They have one child -- a 3-year-old boy. I have two wedding etiquette questions.

Should photos of the "pre-existing" child be included in the wedding invitations? Also, when registering for bridal gifts at the local stores, should they include things the child can use as well? The little boy will be involved in his parents' wedding. -- WEDDING ROOKIE IN ARIZONA

DEAR WEDDING ROOKIE: It would be poor taste to include photos of the child (or the couple) in the wedding invitations. Also, this is a wedding, not a child's birthday party, so the happy couple should not register for children's gifts.

To receive a collection of Abby's most memorable -- and most frequently requested -- poems and essays, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby's "Keepers," P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600