DEAR ABBY: How do you deal with a hypochondriac? My brothers and I lost our dear mother to cancer when we were in our teens. Daddy has recently been diagnosed with a pernicious form of melanoma, which has a low survival rate.
Our father has been married to his second wife, "Doris," for 20 years. Doris is a textbook hypochondriac. She denies it, of course, and insists that her health is bad. So bad, in fact, that she didn't see the irony of telling my sister-in-law, who was undergoing chemotherapy for lymphoma, that "no one understands what it's like to live with a chronic condition." Doris was referring to her allergies!
Now Daddy is battling cancer. He and Doris came to visit his three children and multiple grandchildren. Doris talked about her head cold the entire visit, and our time with Daddy was cut short because she needed to be driven back to the hotel. (No one else could detect her symptoms.)
I'm sure Doris loves my father, and after 20 years of marriage, they're certainly used to each other. But now that Daddy is facing death, I'm having trouble supporting Doris' emotional needs because her hypochondria is so irritating. Still, Dad wouldn't want us to abandon his second wife, despite her psychosomatic quirks. What do you suggest? -- NEEDS HELP UP NORTH
DEAR NEEDS HELP: You can try talking Doris out of her hypochondria until you're blue in the face, but it will only make her try harder to convince you that she's sick -- so stop trying. Instead, every time you see her, tell her she looks TERRIBLE; you've never seen her look worse. It's what she's "dying" to hear, and she'll love you for it!