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DEAR ABBY: My mother is in her early 70s, and her health is deteriorating after a lifetime of alcohol abuse, smoking and other vices. She has been in and out of hospitals for different ailments over the last four years or so. The last few episodes have been the most worrisome, including breathing problems related to congestive heart failure.

The problem is, my mother chooses not to let most of her children know when she goes to the hospital. She's a very manipulative person from the alcoholism and drug abuse. She has her "favorites" who know everything -- while the rest of us are kept in the dark, even about life-threatening ER visits.

My sister, who is on Mom's favorites list and gladly plays along with this sick little game, doesn't have a problem with it, and we recently had a heated argument over it. I am not on the favorites list, as you might imagine. I keep my wife and children away from my mother as much as possible because of her repeated verbal and emotional abuse.

Abby, I am dreadfully scared that I'm not going to get to say goodbye to my mother when she finally dies. Please tell me what I can do to make sure it's not too late when it does happen. All I'm asking for is a courtesy phone call -- that's all. -- "PAUL" IN PENNSYLVANIA

DEAR PAUL: Please do not hold your breath waiting for a "courtesy phone call" that the odds are against your receiving. Your sister is sitting pretty just as things are, and your family dynamics are too entrenched and dysfunctional for significant changes at this point.

Rather than worrying about what is inevitably going to happen sooner or later, my advice is to take the bull by the horns and say goodbye to your mother now. If you can't do it in person, then do it in a letter -- which will guarantee you the last word. It is more important for you to get those feelings out than for your mother to "hear" them.

DEAR ABBY: My best friend's older sister, "Candy," was married last summer. At the last minute she asked me to fill in as a bridesmaid because her friend from out of town couldn't make it. I graciously accepted the offer, and also took over the bridal shower and bachelorette party. I spent a bundle on both parties and, of course, for the bridesmaid's dress, alterations, shoes, etc.

One month after the wedding, Candy moved out and left her husband. She is now seeing his best friend. Candy confided to me that she never really wanted to go through with the wedding in the first place because of her feelings for the best friend. I am beyond mad! I do not plan ever to speak to Candy again, but I'm conflicted because she's my best friend's sister.

I knew going into the wedding that it would be costly. But now, knowing all the facts, I feel betrayed and used. Are my feelings unreasonable? -- TICKED OFF IN TUCSON

DEAR TICKED OFF: Under the circumstances, your reaction is natural. But once you have cooled off, please try to be a little more forgiving. You have described a woman who is extremely immature. I'm sure she wasn't thinking about how her actions would affect you. She was probably afraid of how it would "look" if she canceled the wedding at the last minute -- which is what she should have done instead of creating this mess.

For everything you need to know about wedding planning, order "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby -- Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)

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