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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I have been married for 50 years. I am 70, my husband is 73. We have eight grandchildren and are active in our church and community. Everyone thinks our marriage is a happy one. However, they are mistaken.

My husband has had seven affairs that I know of in the last 40 years. Each affair lasted from six months to seven years. His current affair is now in its sixth year.

Abby, his mistress calls me and lets me know every time they meet. She tells me to leave him so they can be together. You can't imagine the pain of hearing a young woman say: "Old goat! We are in love. Leave him so he can have a life with me." I am devastated, but I fear loneliness. I don't know where to turn. Please tell me what to do. -- LOST IN CHICAGO

P.S. I wrote you in 1984 about the same problem. You gave me two choices: Leave him or tolerate his behavior, because he wouldn't change. You were right. He did not change. You said personally you would have chosen the first option. I'm sorry I didn't follow your advice then.

DEAR LOST: I, too, am sorry that you didn't follow my advice. It would have saved you 17 years of pain and humiliation.

I hope you'll take my advice this time. Some things are worse than loneliness, and in my opinion, living with a chronic cheater is one of them. Make an appointment with a lawyer -- and this time, follow through.

DEAR ABBY: I recently lost my wife to cancer. I could not believe the kindness and consideration of so many family members and friends. However, some people said and wrote things that were thoughtless or hurtful.

My wife entered hospice care when it was apparent she would not win her battle. One woman sent her a greeting card that included the message, "Just think -– when you die you can be my guardian angel!" Believe it or not, that was topped at the visitation prior to the funeral, when a widow told me: "You think it's bad today? Just wait. Every day will be worse than the day before."

Instead of rushing to "open mouth and insert foot," people should just offer sincere condolences, shake hands, and hug or kiss the bereaved.

Weeks after the funeral, wherever I went -– including church -– people would either try to avoid me or give me a pained look and ask, "And how are you?" Instead, they should say, "Good to see you." The bereaved do not need to be reminded of their loss, but do welcome smiles and cheery greetings. -- KEN ALBRECHT, SEA ISLE CITY, N.J.

DEAR KEN: Please accept my sympathy for your loss. Many people feel awkward and do not know the proper words to offer when someone has suffered the loss of a spouse or relative. It is for those people I am printing your letter. I hope they will save it for future reference. Sooner or later, we're all going to encounter someone in that situation, and it's best to be prepared.

Dear Abby is written by Pauline Phillips and daughter Jeanne Phillips.

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 $5 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Keepers Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)

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