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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am writing in the hope you can help me figure out what I am feeling in my heart.

About a year ago, I started dating the most wonderful woman -- or so I thought. "Gloria" walked into my life and turned everything upside-down. We were both going through divorces.

When our divorces were final, I stopped having contact with my ex-wife. As my relationship with Gloria progresses, she keeps finding reasons to see her ex-husband. She says it's to keep an eye on what he is doing and to assure that she'll get the large sum of money he agreed to pay in their divorce settlement. Gloria goes on long weekend trips with him, and when I'm working at night, she goes to visit him.

Abby, where does this leave me? I love this woman very much and don't know what to do. -- LOST IN TENNESSEE

DEAR LOST: The divorce may be final, but Gloria's emotional connection to her former husband does not appear to be severed.

She may be terrific, but the woman you have described is not ready for another marriage, or even an exclusive relationship. Accept it, and move on.

DEAR ABBY: A few years ago you printed a letter from a woman who stood at her mother's casket and regretted not telling her mom how much she had meant to her. She urged others not to make the same mistake.

I thought long and hard about her letter. I realized she was right. It took days, but I composed a letter to my father who was dying of prostate cancer. In it, I made reference to happy events in the past, and thanked him for raising me, loving me and staying involved in my life. I sent the letter to my mother and asked her to read it to him. My father called me a few days later. We both cried over the phone. He died a short while later, but he lives forever in my heart.

Abby, please urge readers who are in similar circumstances to do the same. I cannot stress the feeling of peace I have knowing I told my father how much he meant to me -- while he was still alive. -- MAURICE L. TATE, MALDEN, MASS.

DEAR MAURICE: I'm pleased that a letter in my column helped you communicate your love and gratitude to your father before it was too late. I often advise people to write to loved ones and express those sentiments because their letters usually become priceless keepsakes.

DAR ABBY: I am going to ask my girlfriend to marry me. I need your advice on buying an engagement ring. I am opposed to the traditional diamond because of the high cost and low resale value.

Abby, can you recommend an alternative to a diamond? Is a simple gold band still popular? -- COST-CONSCIOUS IN SAN FRANCISCO

DEAR C.C.: Yes, but gold bands are customarily worn after the wedding. Nowhere is it written that an engagement ring has to be a diamond. (Paul McCartney and Prince Charles both gave their brides-to-be sapphire rings with small diamonds for contrast.)

Ask your girlfriend what her favorite stone is and tell her how you feel about diamonds. You may have more in common than you know.

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 in the price.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600