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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My 9-year-old sister witnessed our mother's murder and her killer's suicide, and she now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. She has since come to live with me and has become an important part of my life. Having her with me has helped me to cope with my grief.

When people hear of our shared tragedy, they react with sympathy. However, they seem to feel it's their duty to tell my sister how grateful she should be to me. Both of us find this remark insulting, bordering on a guilt trip.

I think their comments are inappropriate and more than a little insensitive. How do I firmly cut these people short before they cause my sister more undue stress -- but gently, to also spare their feelings? -- PROTECTIVE IN FLORIDA

DEAR PROTECTIVE: I offer my sympathy for the tragedy that befell your mother. When well-meaning but insensitive people start talking about how grateful your sister should be, simply say: "I'm the one who's grateful. I need my sister at least as much as she needs me. We're fortunate to have each other." It's the truth.

DEAR ABBY: I recently moved to a new neighborhood with my husband and children. It's a nice street, nice neighbors, no complaints really -- except one.

My neighbor "Cheryl" won't leave me alone. She wants our children to play together constantly. When our kids aren't playing, she is calling me. I like her, but enough is enough. I have my own family and friends, and I don't have time to talk to her 24/7.

I cannot hide. She knows when I am home and when I'm out. As soon as I get home, the phone starts ringing. Even when I'm out, she calls my cell phone and asks what I'm doing. And now the computer! She checks to see if I'm online!

It's getting to be too much. I don't know how to say anything without hurting her feelings. I actually pray for rainy days so I can stay indoors. Other than moving, what can I do? -- PRISONER IN MY NEW HOME

DEAR PRISONER: Some of this is your own fault. You gave Cheryl your cell phone number and e-mail address, so you shouldn't blame her for using them.

If you want your life back, put some starch in your spine and explain to this needy (and presumptuous) woman that you don't have time to fulfill all her needs -- you already have a family and social life.

When she comes over uninvited, tell her you are busy. If she calls at an inopportune time, explain that you will call her back because it is not convenient to talk "now." (Return the call when you have time to chat.) Ask her not to call you on your cell phone. If she persists, change the number. Do the same with your e-mail address.

In other words, draw some boundaries around your life and kindly (but firmly) insist that she respect them. Your life will not be your own if you don't, and you'll have nobody to blame but yourself.

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, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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