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AN AUNT PLEA FOR COMPASSION

Dear Abby: I am a 38-year-old woman facing a tough dilemma. My parents divorced when I was 7. My father was a drunk and a wife beater and refused to pay the $5 a week that Mom asked for the four of us. He spread nasty rumors around town, which caused my mother untold stress. He brought his drunken friends into our bathroom when I was in the tub with no shower curtain. He would drag me out of bed in the middle of the night and make me take off my nightgown while he whipped me with a belt. I do not hate the man - I have no feelings for him at all.

The problem is my aunt - his sister - who always remembered each of our birthdays with a $20 bill. We lived far below poverty level with no welfare because Mom didn't want us to grow up expecting a handout. Last week my aunt sent me a birthday card and asked me to do her a personal favor by sending my father the get-well card she had enclosed, as he just had surgery for cancer. She said it would mean the world to him and to her.

I love my aunt - she's recovering from cancer, too. She has never asked me for anything, but her request is very hard for me. My aunt has always thought her brother was the victim of my "mean" mother - who, by the way, raised three good kids who never tried drugs, have high morals and strong work ethics. In her letter, my aunt said that someday I would find out my parents' "whole story - the true one." Abby, I KNOW the true one. I lived it!

Should I write to my aunt and tell her the "true story" of her abusive brother? Or should I grant her wish and send a get-well card to my father - the wife beater and child abuser? Please help.

- Losing SLeep in New Hampshire

Dear Losing Sleep: By all means, write to your aunt. Tell her how much you appreciate her kindness and all she has done for you and your siblings over the years. Be sure to assure her that you know she means well, but make it clear that you are unable to do as she requested - and tell her exactly why.

A best friend lost

Dear Abby: My 19-year-old son just lost his best friend to suicide. He is deeply hurt and torn over this, and I don't know what I can do to help him. He has been getting drunk ever since.

I went to the funeral with my son, but he didn't want to sit with me. He sat with his friends. After the service, he rode with them to the cemetery, but they somehow got lost in traffic and arrived too late for the burial. I know that's what is hurting him most right now, since he was asked to be a pallbearer and didn't get to do the last thing he could do for his buddy.

All this took place on Friday; I have not seen my son until now. It is early Sunday morning; he just came home drunk and crying. He went straight to bed, and I could hear him crying himself to sleep.

When I ask him if he's OK, he says yes - but I know he's not. I'm afraid he is going to get worse, because he's taking this so hard. My heart is breaking for my son, Abby. What can I do for him?

- Brokenhearted Mom in New Jersey

Dear Brokenhearted Mom: Get him into grief counseling immediately. Your son is in pain and needs professional help. Drowning his sorrows in a bottle will not help your son, and could put him in a dangerous situation. He needs a safe place to express his sadness, his anger and his loss. Your family physician or clergyperson can help you locate a therapist or a support group.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

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