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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: In October of 1998, my best friend died of cancer. She was only 27, and had a long, hard, three-year battle with the disease that eventually made it impossible for her to talk and left her in constant pain until the day she died. She fought hard. She wanted to live for the sake of her two children.

She was the friend I had searched for all my life. We shared everything.

As she was nearing the end, she would ask me, "Am I dying?" And I would reply that she was not. For reasons I will never understand, her mother, husband and physician had decided it was better not to tell her she was going to die soon. The cancer had spread to her liver, and she was well aware that she would die in the absence of a miracle. There was so much she could have done to prepare, and she could have said goodbye to her children.

I am still consumed with guilt for having concealed the truth from my friend. I am nervous all the time and have trouble concentrating and sleeping. I keep repeating in my mind all of the feelings I could have shared with my friend.

I try to occupy my mind -- I work, read, write a journal of the thoughts I would have liked to share with her and try to enjoy life. But the depression overwhelms me. I am not sure if I need therapy or medication so I can stop feeling so anxious and can sleep through the night.

I feel embarrassed and weak for being unable to handle this on my own. You are my last hope. Please help me. -- GRIEVING IN L.A.

DEAR GRIEVING: Please don't blame yourself for having not told your friend that she was dying. Although I do not agree with their thinking, you did as her family dictated you must. Your friend was an adult, and, in my opinion, entitled to an honest answer so that she could spend her short and precious time as she wished, made her peace and provided letters for her children. I suspect some families prefer to avoid disclosing a terminal diagnosis because they are unable to come to terms with their own feelings and fears about it.

Short-term medication, under a doctor's supervision, may be helpful. Call your doctor and ask for a referral to a psychotherapist who can help you work through your unresolved guilt and grief. A grief support group could be helpful. To locate one, ask your doctor or clergyperson, or inquire at the nearest hospital.

DEAR ABBY: On Sunday, April 30, my wife called me into the living room to read me a letter from your column. As she read it aloud, I could not hold back the tears. It was the letter from Peter Tran about that day being Memorial Day for the end of the Vietnam War.

I was deeply touched by Mr. Tran's words of gratitude as I reflected back to the year I spent in Vietnam. While I was there, I had witnessed underlying hatred for our being there and ruining the beautiful terrain that existed before the war. It was as though we were fighting a war of no purpose. I am sure other vets felt the same way.

I want to thank Mr. Tran for opening a door that had been tightly closed for many years. It has given me some sense of closure to the many questions I have had about our presence in Vietnam. A huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I no longer feel guilty for having been there. I now feel that it was worth the effort. -- DAVID MICHENER, PUYALLUP, WASH.

DEAR DAVID: I'm pleased that the letter brought you closure.

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