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by Abigail Van Buren

For Estranged Sister, Casual Queries Are a Thorny Issue

DEAR ABBY: My sister, "Shannon," and I had a major falling out years ago and I haven't spoken to her or her family since -- except briefly, when we had to make arrangements for our father's funeral three years ago. Shannon is 17 years older than me, married with two grown children. I'm perfectly OK with this arrangement. In fact, I prefer it, and I'm sure they do, too.

The problem is, I recently moved to the same county they live in and have run into several old acquaintances who have asked, "Aren't you Shannon's sister?" or, "How are your nieces doing? I heard one recently had a baby."

Abby, I no longer consider myself to be Shannon's sister. I have no idea how my nieces are or if one of them had a baby. How should I respond to these well-meaning people? If I tell them I no longer have contact with them, it will lead to questions I'd rather not answer. How do I politely deal with this without opening up my personal life for discussion? -- SHANNON'S FORMER SISTER

DEAR FORMER SISTER: When asked if you're Shannon's sister, say yes. If you're asked anything beyond that, say you are not close and if they have questions about the baby they should ask the niece who had it. You do not have to air any "dirty laundry." If you are asked other questions that make you uncomfortable, it is perfectly acceptable to smile, say you would rather not discuss it and change the subject.