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Tue, March 26

Dear Abby | Pen pal labors from a distance as friend’s memory slips away

Dear Abby: I am in my 30s and correspond with a pen pal. She is over 65 and lives several states away. We have never met in person. We have been writing each other for seven years. Recently, she has been having memory problems. She has indicated that she’s done testing and been to doctor’s appointments for the issue.

Her letters are becoming confusing as she’s repeating herself from one letter to the next, telling me things she’s already told me. Also, more concerning is that she often accuses me (meanly and out of her normal kind character) of not responding to her letters and saying I mustn’t want to be her pen pal anymore. Abby, I put lots of thought into the letters I send, and they are many pages long.

I have now taken to photocopying my letters or typing them and saving the file so if she says she’s missing a letter from me, I can simply mail a second copy to her. This clears up the physical issue of repeat sending, but honestly, mentally and emotionally, I’m beginning to get burned out. I feel bad for thinking this way because I’m compassionate and empathetic.

Losing one’s memory has to be scary, and I have enjoyed writing her for so long and wouldn’t want to abandon her. Also, I wonder if her writing to me is a good activity for her, given her ailment. Truthfully, though, I’m starting to feel hurt and abused. Can you advise? – Needing a Break in Illinois

Dear Needing: It is very important that you remind yourself that what you are experiencing with your friend is not her fault. It is caused by her disease. Do you know if she has family nearby? If so, they should be contacted and informed about what’s going on.

Dementias are often progressive, and at some point, your friend may no longer be able to correspond with you. My thought would be that you continue to write to her, but make your letters shorter and less frequent, and do not personalize what’s going on.

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

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