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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am a Navy wife whose husband is currently deployed. Two months after he left, his mother passed away after a short, fierce battle with colon cancer. My grieving husband barely made it home in time for her funeral, and he never got to tell her goodbye.

My husband and I spent 10 emotion-filled days together in his mother's hometown before he had to return to his ship and I had to travel home to our two children. Out of that terrible heartache, we received a blessed gift -- we discovered that we're pregnant!

However, our "happy news" has created an awkward situation: Now that I'm beginning to "show," people who don't know about my husband's mother are asking when I'm due -- and I can see them mentally add the months my husband has been deployed. One woman actually counted out loud on her fingers and then exclaimed, "But he's gone! How is it that you're expecting?"

Our children are 13 and 11, and people have asked in their presence if they come from previous relationships -- and if this new baby will be my husband's and my first child together. One of my daughter's teachers even had the nerve to ask her who the father of the baby is! My darling daughter responded in typical teen-age fashion, "My dad, of course!" Then she rolled her eyes.

How should we as a family respond to these outrageous inquiries? I am at a loss. -- NAVY WIFE AND MOTHER IN WASHINGTON STATE

DEAR NAVY WIFE AND MOTHER: When you are asked who the father of the baby is, smile and reply, "Ask my husband when he gets home. He was there when it happened."

DEAR ABBY: On Sept. 11, I tragically lost my brother, New York firefighter Michael Kiefer of Ladder 132 in Brooklyn. He was only 25 when he died, and his greatest dream was to be a New York firefighter. He lived his dream for only nine months.

The pain of losing my brother in such a violent and senseless act has been unbearable. My parents told me about the "pennies" letters in your column -- how each time someone finds a penny, it means a loved one in heaven is thinking of us. I cannot begin to tell you how true this has been for my family.

Whenever one of us is feeling especially down about Michael, we always find a penny. An example: My brother loved to go to the gym, so one day I decided it was time for me to get back in shape and make him proud. All during my workout I told my angel brother I was doing it for him. As I walked out of the gym, there it was -- a bright, shiny penny! I knew then that Michael was proud of me. It truly was a penny from heaven, and without a doubt from my brother, whom I love and will miss for the rest of my life. Michael, you will always be our hero and you will never be forgotten! -- LAUREN M. KIEFER, FRANKLIN SQUARE, N.Y.

DEAR LAUREN: I extend my deepest sympathy to you and your family for the loss of your heroic brother. The "pennies from heaven" letters have moved many of my readers. And one day I hope to publish a collection of the letters I have received with their messages of hope. Thank you for sharing yours.

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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