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by Abigail Van Buren

Family Is Torn Apart When Widow, Widower Get Together

DEAR ABBY: You have probably heard everything, but here goes. My sister-in-law died last summer. She had been very ill for a year. My brother-in-law, "Tom," took excellent care of her, but not too long before her death, she had to be put in a nursing home. While visiting his wife there, Tom struck up a friendship with a woman I'll call "Dolly." Tom is in his 70s. Dolly is in her 80s. Dolly's husband died about the same time as my sister-in-law.

Get this: While Tom and his family were receiving friends at the funeral home, Dolly showed up and announced to one and all that she was Tom's girlfriend.

To make matters worse, at the funeral, she also told everyone at church she was Tom's girlfriend. She even sat with us in the family pews, right behind Tom.

How could anyone be so brazen as to not even wait until the spouse is buried to announce their affair?

One week later, Tom bought her an engagement ring. Two weeks after that, they eloped.

Do you think we should exclude them from our annual holiday dinner? Several family members have said they will not attend if she's there. Our family has always been very close, but this has torn us apart. How should I handle this? -- ONE FOR THE BOOKS

DEAR ONE FOR THE BOOKS: Because your family is still grieving -- and upset over Tom's swift remarriage -- consider scaling down your organized holiday events this year. You all need more time to heal.

Tom and Dolly obviously bonded while visiting their dying spouses. Please try not to judge them too harshly. They may have been lonely and vulnerable watching their spouses slip away day after day.

I agree that Dolly's timing was off. However, Tom and Dolly witnessed death firsthand. Because of their ages, they've chosen to live the rest of their lives to the fullest. Try to be happy for them and wish them well. After all, they're family.

DEAR ABBY: I have very eclectic tastes and have always prided myself on having things that are unique to me. However, I have one friend who constantly robs me of my individuality.

I have two cats -- and she acquired two cats. I got a hamster for my boyfriend -- and she got two hamsters for her husband and put them in a more elaborate cage. I bought a water dragon -- she got two and put them in a fancier tank. I bought a dragon print for my living room -- she bought three dragon prints. I am an avid gardener and mentioned that someday I would like to have a water garden. Well, guess what -- she now has a water garden. She constantly tries to outdo me. It goes on and on.

It infuriates me when our friends comment and praise her for HER style and taste. We are both in our 30s, but suddenly I feel I'm back in high school.

I don't want to be petty, but I feel like my identity is being stolen. What can I do to stop it? -- COPIED IN CONNECTICUT

DEAR COPIED: Tell your friend you're turning your living room into a shrine for Elvis -- then let her.

Good advice for everyone -- teens to seniors -- is in "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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