Dear Ann:

The letter I'm enclosing appeared in your column almost 20 years ago, and I saved it because it made a big difference in my life. I'm sure it will help others get through a terrible time in their lives, as it helped me. Please run it again.

-- Healed in Toronto

Here's the letter you requested. Thanks for letting me know it helped. That's what I'm here for.

Dear Ann:

I am writing this letter out of anxiety and frustration. I realize it is too long to print, but perhaps you can use parts of it to educate the well-meaning public.

As the wife of a terminally ill patient, I have become a prisoner in my own home. Sometimes, I think if I hear one more knock on the door, I will scream. People I don't know, "John's" co-workers, distant aunts, cousins and friends of the family drop in anywhere from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. I am expected to entertain them, serve them refreshments and be cordial, even though I may have been up most of the night and am dead on my feet.

Will you please print these guidelines for well-meaning friends and relatives? It is too late for me -- I'm already a wreck -- but maybe I can help somebody else.

1. Don't just drop in. Call first. This means everybody -- parents included.

2. Don't ask personal questions such as: "Does John have a will?" "Where will he be buried?" "Does he have a good insurance policy?" "How much longer can he last?" This information is not your business, and being forced to respond to such questions makes me uncomfortable.

3. Don't describe your Uncle Sol's bout with cancer. It doesn't help the family to know "he had the same trouble and suffered something terribly at the end." John doesn't need any more stress, and neither do the rest of us.

4. Don't offer medical advice. We are not interested in taking John to Mexico for some rare herbal extract or to California for some newfangled, unproven treatment or to a faith healer in India. We are listening to our own doctors.

5. Don't say, "Call me if there is anything I can do." I am not going to call. If you want to help, use your imagination. There are many things you can do. For example, say, "I can visit John Friday or Saturday. Which day would you like to get your hair washed or run errands?"

6. Don't bring candy, flowers or books. We have plenty. Do bring a casserole, a crock of soup or some homemade cookies.

7. Please leave the kids at home. John is too ill to appreciate Suzie's new song and Tommy's stories about his baseball activities. Even though he loves children, the commotion makes him nervous.

I know this letter sounds ungracious. I don't mean it to be. We love our family and friends. Company is good for John, but not a constant stream, every day, all day. No matter how close you are to us, please call before you come over, and ask if it is a good time. I know John hasn't much time left, and it would be lovely if the children and I could have a few evenings of family life -- just us, no visitors.

Please, Ann, print this letter. Your millions of readers who have been fortunate enough to have missed what we are going through now will surely profit from it.

-- Name Withheld, No City Please

Thank you for your excellent suggestions. Let's hope everyone will pay attention.

(C) 1999, Creators Syndicate Inc.

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