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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: A member of our family recently graduated from college -- finally! This woman is in her late 40s. For the past four years, she has spent all her free time and money on studies when she should have been spending more time with her husband, children, grandchildren and ailing parents.

She stopped socializing with friends and occasionally missed family parties because she had "work" to do. She often visited with callers at her door or on the porch because she put her studies before housekeeping and, boy, was it ever obvious! Her house was an unholy mess. It's a good thing her husband is a patient man -- otherwise, he would have booted her out and found a real wife.

During her last year of school, she lost her 4.0 average when a family member became ill. She actually cried over it, even though her grades are never going to matter to anyone.

Now that she's a college graduate, she seems hurt that no one has made any fuss about it. When she offered tickets to her graduation ceremony, there was a dead silence. Her own kids didn't even want to attend. I can understand making a fuss when young people graduate because they are at the beginning of their careers, but a degree in "the classics" won't help this woman with the job she's held for 25 years. She's now nearing retirement age, so she doesn't need a new career. Abby, do you think we should have made a big deal out of what was no big deal? Sign this ... ALICE (NOT MY REAL NAME)

DEAR ALICE: Yes, you should have, and shame on you for not doing so. My congratulations to your relative, who had the courage and determination to reach an admirable goal to enhance and enrich her life with knowledge. Furthermore, her accomplishment is all the more admirable considering the difficult obstacles she had to overcome, among them a non-supportive family.

DEAR ABBY: I'm in the process of writing my autobiography, which probably will be distributed to my family after my death. I'm wondering how much I should include and whether confession serves any purpose now, except my own need to confess.

I am respected and loved by my children, even though they probably know I wasn't an angel in my younger years.

During my marriage, I had an affair. I believe if I hadn't had the affair, I probably would have gotten a divorce. The man with whom I had the affair gave me the friendship, communication and understanding I didn't receive from my husband, but we didn't hurt anyone.

I know God has forgiven me and I have grown spiritually in many ways since that time. I would hope that by revealing this, I might pass on my belief that no matter how rotten we are, if we repent, God will forgive us and we can be a worthwhile person.

Should I reveal my past or not? -- INDECISIVE

DEAR INDECISIVE: With apologies to the author of "The Bridges of Madison County," I can see very little good that could come from disclosing to your children that you were an unfaithful wife whose husband behaved in a way that made her feel friendless, misunderstood and alone. If God has forgiven you, and you have forgiven yourself, keep your lips sealed, your pen capped, and take the secret with you to heaven.

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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