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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I lost my father suddenly six years ago. He was 56 and I was 25. I had always been Daddy's girl, and it took me a long time to deal with his death.

My problem is I'm unsympathetic to everyone around me now. I'll give you an example. A woman I work with is 60 and both her parents are still living, although her father is in failing health. She talks endlessly about his poor health and how it takes up all her time. Most people feel bad for her, but I resent the fact that she's upset that her dad is 86 and dying, when my dad died so young.

I feel like I am becoming a cold, unfeeling person and I don't know how to stop it. Can you help? -- UNSYMPATHETIC IN NEW YORK

DEAR UNSYMPATHETIC: I don't think you are cold, unfeeling or unsympathetic. You may still not be over the loss of your father. The late Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross broke the grieving process into five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. It might be helpful for you to discuss your concerns with a licensed mental health professional who can help you work this through.

And in the meantime, when your co-worker raises the subject of her pain at losing her father -- which I'm sure you identify with -- explain that it's too painful for you to hear and excuse yourself.

DEAR ABBY: We have a "situation" at work that is becoming intolerable. Our new boss of four months joins us for our coffee breaks and lunches. It is awkward, to say the least. The other secretaries and I look forward to our breaks as a time to unwind (and talk about the salespeople and our bosses if we need to vent). Now we can't speak freely.

Even worse, the woman has atrocious table manners. She talks the entire time she's eating -- chomping, slurping and spraying food all over. It's disgusting.

We brown-bag our lunches because we can't afford to eat out. We know we can't tell our boss she isn't welcome in the break room. Any ideas on how we can handle this? -- NAUSEATED IN BLOOMFIELD, N.J.

DEAR NAUSEATED: Allow me to offer a couple. Schedule your breaks so you aren't all taking one at once, which will make it more difficult for your new boss to join you. And at lunch, break into groups and take your brown bags off the premises if possible. That way, all of you won't have to tolerate her every day.

Frankly, I feel sympathy for the woman. She seems lonely and unaware of the fact that an invisible line separates management from staff, that she's not one of you and is intruding.

DEAR ABBY: When my son and his fiancee have a fight, she comes to cry on my shoulder. She says she doesn't want to talk to her friends because she doesn't want them to dislike him. Little does she know how stressful this is for me when I get to hear all the details. How can I put a stop to this without hurting her feelings? -- TOO MUCH INFORMATION IN IOWA

DEAR TOO MUCH INFORMATION: Start by telling her how stressful it is when she comes running to you when she and your son argue. Then, explain that as much as you care about her, if she's going to marry your son, she is going to have to learn to work out her problems with him on her own. You'll be doing her a favor.

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