DEAR ABBY: Forty years ago, after accusing our father of taking indecent liberties with her, my sister "Vera" was diagnosed with a major mental illness. She was 17. After many difficult years of hospitalizations, medication and electro-shock therapy, Vera finally accepted her diagnosis and now lives in a board-and-care home nearby. She has never been well enough to work or carry on a relationship, and due to her medication, she suffers from a serious neuromuscular disorder.
Our father died suddenly -- and while going through his belongings, Mom and I discovered some graphic Polaroid photos that prove Vera's allegations were true. Mom destroyed them immediately. I believe Vera should know that we now understand she wasn't delusional, that she was misdiagnosed and treated unnecessarily.
Mom is adamantly opposed. She says Vera is receiving the "best help available" and it would only "upset her" if she knew what we found. I am heartsick. Should I tell Vera at the risk of it killing our mom, or should I let it go? Vera's treatments have taken most of her memory. -- DISTRAUGHT IN OHIO
DEAR DISTRAUGHT: Your mother's reaction makes me wonder whether she might have had an inkling all along that your sister was telling the truth. After all these years, I fail to see how telling Vera that someone believes her will "kill" your mother.
I once knew a woman who had spent years in group therapy trying to get at the root of her problems. Like your sister, she had had shock therapy, which had blasted away some of her memory. She said many times that she would have been glad to have someone fill in some of the blanks for her -- and so, I suspect, would Vera. Your sister deserves answers and validation.
However, before you approach her, it is very important that you first discuss this with a psychotherapist who can guide you through the process.