Q: I am a widow in my sixties trying, like millions of others, to have a useful and happy life after the terrible loss of my life's companion. His last illness ate up all our savings, but my children, who are grown up with families of their own, do what they can to help me. I have my health, thank God, and I am able to remain active in community affairs.

My problem is that a handsome, rich, eligible man is showering me with fancy presents, and wants to marry me on any terms I set. One of his suggestions is that he make over all his money solely to me, as a guarantee in case something happens to him.

Some problem, as my friends keep telling me. But wait.

I was married to this man when I was 21 and he was 19. Something happened, all right. One fine day he kissed me cheerily, explained as kindly as possible (he always was a charmer) that he didn't want to know he would spend the rest of his life waking up in the same bed in the same town with the same wife (with lots of flowery phrases to indicate that if it weren't for the sameness I would still be the one he would choose) and was going off to take a job that would lead to becoming an actor.

It happened the day I was going to tell him I was expecting a child, but his announcement came first, and I decided mine would sound too much like I was arguing with him. So I gaily kissed him goodbye, and he left.

I've always hated being called brave. I did what I could for my little girl, and instead of trying to keep a man who wanted to get away, I married one who wanted and loved us both. We had two other children, and were content until he was stricken, six years ago.

But I didn't like it that people wanted me to be bitter, either, and to hate Harry. I didn't marry Harry because I hated him. I married him because he was handsome and gay (not in today's sense, of course), and what he did was a result of that.

So I sent him birthday cards all these years, and attended his parents' funerals, where I caught glimpses of him and his other wives. I saw one who looked like a lady, but was dying of cancer then. Before that, there had been a rich older woman who left him for someone her own age, and a very young girl who left him "to find herself." Harry never became an actor, but he made money in the movie theater business, and lives very nicely.

Last year, he started writing me (before, it was just an occasional office note, or a clipping telling about a business deal or a divorce), and this Christmas he showed up and gave me a mink stole, which I took, and a diamond ring, which I didn't. Should I?

My oldest daughter says no, but I should tell him who she is. I will if we marry, but don't see what anybody would get out of it otherwise (except maybe she would get a mink stole, too). My youngest and my son say to if I love him. The truth is, I never stopped loving him one minute for 40 years, but I can't tell them that because of their father. I would pick him over Harry now, if I had the choice, but I don't.

Do people ever really change?

A: One thing that undoubtedly changes is one's feeling about permanence. When it seems possible, many people, like Harry, find it boring; when life has proven to them how impossible it actually is, they may yearn for it.

Another change is that there is no chance that he will leave you destitute and pregnant.

Best wishes to you. Copyright (c) 1983, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.