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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My two grown children ("Ted" and "Alice") love each other dearly but get into frequent tiffs. After the last one, they were not speaking. It was Ted's birthday and Alice was leaving town, so she asked me to give him a card she had chosen.

I knew this card wouldn't go over well. After Alice left, I went to the store and bought a card that I knew expressed how she really feels. I signed her name to it and threw out the other one. I don't think that either one of them will find out what I did.

When Ted opened the card, he was very touched. He really liked it. The card made him happy. Was I wrong to do what I did? -- MOTHER WHO CARES

DEAR MOTHER: Your letter tells me your children are grown, but your actions say otherwise. In this case, the end may have justified the means and your maneuver was relatively harmless. However, it is not your place to mediate between your adult children. Your behavior could easily backfire, so in the future, please resist the urge to meddle.

DEAR ABBY: I'm sure that over the years you have received many letters similar to the one you published from "Grieving in Orange, Texas," who for many years and on her own has visited the frail elderly in convalescent hospitals across the country. She discovered from experience what health-care workers have learned from survey after survey: NATIONALLY, MORE THAN 60 PERCENT OF NURSING HOME RESIDENTS NEVER HAVE A VISITOR. She asked you to urge your readers to visit these isolated seniors.

Your answer was right on, Abby: "The most effective cure for loneliness is caring, human contact." Your column wields a lot of influence for good in our society. Perhaps you could use it to advise these individuals to either join an existing organization formed for this purpose, or to start such an organization in their communities.

The San Francisco Ministry to Nursing Homes (SFMNH) has found from experience that the activity "Grieving" calls for -- visiting people in nursing homes -- needs to be a community effort, not just the efforts of individuals (although I'm not at all discouraging families and friends from visiting). It needs to be well-organized. Volunteer training and support are crucial. When visiting is done in the context of teamwork, it's much easier for the individual, and when volunteers are offered professional training, visits are much more effective. Also, when volunteers have an opportunity to meet and share their experiences, it's much more enjoyable.

SFMNH has a corps of more than 500 volunteers who reach an estimated 1,000 elders in nursing homes each month, with a variety of activities. And we're growing. Other cities are starting similar programs -- Richmond, Va., for instance, and also Tulsa, Okla. There is a growing awareness of the needs and resources for senior citizens.

If your readers are willing to let us know about organizations in their local communities that recruit and train volunteers for this purpose, we will list these organizations on our Web site. Your readers can e-mail us at: They also can write to us at: 1755 Clay St., San Francisco, Calif. 94109. -- BRENT H. NETTLE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, SAN FRANCISCO MINISTRY TO NURSING HOMES

DEAR BRENT: Your concept of a nationwide volunteer effort is one way to make a dent in a growing problem as our population ages -- loneliness of the elderly in nursing homes. However, seniors are not the only residents of nursing homes. There is also a population of younger people who suffer from chronic degenerative diseases, and/or the aftermath of gunshot wounds, etc. They, too, need social contacts to bolster their spirits.

For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more attractive person, order "How to Be Popular." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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