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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: On Mother's Day, we went to visit my in-laws. My mother-in-law, "Gertrude," had been sick for several years. While we were there, my father-in-law, "Hank," told us he was tired of taking care of her and not getting any relief. This was the first time we heard that he was in need of help.

Two weeks later, Hank called to say that Gert was very ill and the doctors didn't give her long to live. My husbvand is a long-haul truck driver and was on the West Coast. It took us three days to get to his parents. When we arrived, we found Gert's health had drastically deteriorated. She was bedridden and could hardly speak. It was obviious it was only a matter of days.

As we were about to leave, Hank said he wanted us to meet someone. He left the house and returned 10 minutes later with a woman. He introduced her as his "special friend." Abby, she was his girlfriend! He brought her into the house while his wife of more than 40 years lay there dying. Two days later, Gert was gone.

\ While we were at the funeral home making the burial arrangements, Hank called his girlfriend on his cell phone and asked her to accompany him to his grandson's graduation. (It was the same day.) When she arrived at the funeral home, they clung to each other to the point of being sicke ning, and he told us he loved her.

Can you believe anyone would have so little respect for his wife and family? My husband and his sister are appalled. Had he waited a reasonable length of time to introduce eus, we could have accepted it. Granted, Gert wasn't the easiest person to live with, but Hank was sick for many years himself, and Gert stood by him, worked and took care of her family, too.

What do you think of his behavior? -- HORRIFIED IN HICKORY, N.C.

DEAR HORRIFIED: It appears your father-in-law was experiencing caregiver burnout for some time. He was overwhelmed by the responsibility and needed someone to lean on. Since no family was there to help him, he turned to a "special friend."

While I agree the timing of his declaration of love leaves something to be desired, please do not judge him harshly.

DEAR ABBY: I'm a married man who happens to have a girlfriend. My wife knows her and likes her, and her husband is a fine man for whom I have the greatest respect.

We are not cheating. There are no tears, no recriminations, no lies, no guilt, no screaming, no divorces, no dead bodies on the floor. Everyuone's heart is big enough to accommodate this situation.

Your column is filled with letters from jealous spouses. I wonder if you dare acknowledge a different perspective. Jealousy is not instinctive in humans. It is learned behavior -- a product of cultural conditioning.

Many people have open marriages. Puritanism was one of the most destructive forces in American history. It should have been jettisoned centuries ago.

The next time you see one of those horrible news stories about a man killing his estranged wife, kids and self, consider what the price of that cultural conditioning really is. -- ALIVE AND WELL IN UTOPIA

DEAR ALIVE AND WELL: Cultural conditioning? Estranged husbands who kill their former wives, children and themselves are psychopaths. I'm hardly a Puritan, but in my opinion, people who have open marriages behave as though they have no marriage at all. My sympathy to their spouses.

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

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

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