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by Abigail Van Buren

Car Accident Forces Mom to Reorder Her Priorities

DEAR ABBY: I have always believed my home and family are a reflection of me. My spotless home and my children defined me as a success. When an auto accident left me in traction and unable to leave my bed, I learned a new definition of success.

A special neighbor who had recently graduated from college was job-hunting without much luck. Every morning she would come over, get my kids ready for school and clean my house, while I lay in bed feeling sorry for myself.

The one thing I WAS able to do from my bed was talk to my children. I read to them every night at bedtime. For the first time, I listened to them without distraction. I heard them laugh. I held them when they cried. I didn't think about dirty dishes or laundry -- I just thought about THEM. In other words, I was a real mom for the first time in their lives.

When I was finally able to get out of bed and do things for myself, I wrote a long letter of gratitude to my neighbor and tucked it into her pocket as she left. Imagine my surprise when she showed up at my door bright and early the next morning. Over coffee, she tearfully told me how much helping me had meant to her. She had been considering suicide because she didn't feel she had a purpose in life. Helping me gave her a purpose and snapped her out of her depression.

Abby, I have learned many things from this experience. I have learned that smiles on my children's faces are far more important than shiny floors and sparkling windows. I have also learned that giving help is as important as receiving it. My house may not be as clean as it was before, but my children will never have to compete with housework again. -- THANKFUL IN TEXAS

DEAR THANKFUL: Thank you for sharing the insight you have gained. It seems the auto accident was a life-changing experience, not only for you, but also for those around you. I agree, your house may not be as tidy as it was before your accident, but your priorities are now in order, and that's far more important.

DEAR ABBY: My dad died two years ago, leaving my mother alone after 49 years of a wonderful marriage. My sister and I helped Mom move into an assisted-living facility where she has adjusted as well as can be expected.

My dad worked hard, saved well, and left Mom with no financial concerns. Our dilemma is that Mom, a very trusting person, has now befriended a man who is a known con artist. This man has been in severe financial trouble for more than 20 years and has asked Mom for a large sum of money, which she agreed to give him. He also informed her that this sum of money may not be enough to resolve his problems.

Abby, this man has been caught in several lies, but Mom insists she's doing the right thing. We are certain he intends to drain Mom of 50 years of hard work and savings. How can we help her? We need to help her understand this man's true motives. We both love her dearly. -- WORRIED SICK IN ALABAMA

DEAR WORRIED SICK: Warn your mother's attorney about what's going on, and if necessary, call the police. A con man who smells money has as much conscience as a shark who smells blood in the water, and it appears your mother is in over her head. Please don't wait.

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.)

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