Dad, brother's girlfriend caught in couch clinch

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DEAR ABBY: My brother and his girlfriend, Serena, moved in with my parents three years ago. They have since had a child who is almost 2. My brother did some things he shouldnt have, and now hes in prison. (He has eight months left to serve.) Serena doesnt work and barely takes care of their son. My parents seem to always have the little boy.

Last night, I dropped by the house unexpectedly. Mom was in bed, but I found my dad and Serena making out on the couch. I was furious. I could have killed her right there for doing that to my mom and my brother. Somehow I managed to keep my cool, but not before letting my presence be known.

Dad tried to act like what I saw was a game and wasnt real. I know what I saw, and I feel terrible. I dont know how to handle this. Should I tell my brother and my mom? I can never go back into that house ever again. As long as Serena is there, I am a time bomb waiting to explode. Im afraid of what I might do to her. Please help me!

TICKING SISTER

DEAR TICKING: Ill try. The first thing you must do is recognize that, as tempting as it is to blame this all on Serena, your father is an adult and responsible for his actions. He is as guilty as Serena is, and attacking her is not the solution.

Because having Serena living under the same roof has proved too tempting for your father to resist, give him two weeks to move her and the baby out, or you will tell your mother what you saw. (I wouldnt be surprised if she already has an inkling.) If Serena goes, say nothing. To tell your brother that the mother of his child has been cheating on him with his father while hes incarcerated, and unable to do anything about it, would be to no ones benefit, so I strongly advise against it.

DEAR ABBY: When I have to express my sympathy to someone, such as an acquaintance at work over the death of a loved one, I havent a clue as to what to say. I dont want to bore them with platitudes; they sound meaningless. I want it to be something heartfelt.

In the very near future, I will be losing a friend to cancer. I dont know what to say when my friend talks about dying. I want to be there for the family, and not be tongue-tied about expressing my feelings. Everything I think to say sounds stupid in my mind, so I keep my mouth shut.

TONGUE-TIED IN TEXAS

DEAR TONGUE-TIED: Your discomfort isnt unusual, but please understand: What may seem stupid to you will not seem that way to the friend who is dying, nor to the family that is grieving. My advice is to keep your message brief and simple. To the family who is in mourning, say, Please accept my deepest sympathy for your loss. If they want to talk about it further, theyll let you know. If they dont, they will simply thank you for your condolences.

It is often difficult to converse with someone who is dying because of survivor guilt, or a fear that we will become too emotional. Believe me, a person with a terminal illness is still the same person you have always loved. Listen to what he or she has to say, because the person may just need to talk. If you are wondering what to tell your friend, tell her what knowing her has meant to you, share what lessons she has taught you, describe those qualities that make her special. And its all right to say that your life will not be the same without her when she is gone. Its not hokey; its the truth. And one more thing. Its OK to cry. Tears can be healing.

DEAR ABBY: My 3-year-old son has been attending a day-care center that is run by my best friend, Annika. While Annika was out of town attending a funeral, one of her staff members kicked my son in the head because he was in her way. When I questioned the teacher, she smirked about it and didnt deny it.

I wanted the matter addressed immediately. I called our state licensing division to have the matter investigated. The following week, when Annika returned, she advised me that child care for my son would be terminated in two days. The teacher received a simple write-up.

Annika said I didnt give her the chance to correct the problem with the teacher before calling the state. I am livid that she took it personally when I tried to protect my child. I didnt do it to get her in trouble.

Annika was to be my maid of honor next September, and the thought of it makes me ill. I have no desire to see my former best friend, and she lives across the street from me. This all happened last week. Should I give it time, or stand my ground? Am I overreacting about this or should I reconcile? My decision will be based on your reply.

OVERWHELMED

DEAR OVERWHELMED: Your call to the state licensing board was premature. Although I understand your outrage as a protective parent, everyone might have been better served had you withdrawn your child from the day-care center until Annika returned, and not jumped the gun. Frankly, you are lucky to have your son out of there. The teacher, who appears poorly suited for her job, should have been dismissed instead of reprimanded.

Only you can decide whether or not to reconcile with your best friend. Because Annika lives across the street, I see no point in trying to avoid her. However, you both might be happier if you asked someone else to be your maid of honor.

DEAR ABBY: Seven years ago, I became close friends with Anthony and his wife, Erika. Erika died unexpectedly, leaving behind her husband and two children, Heidi and Dustin. Heidi and I became very close, and she began looking up to me as a mother figure.

Seven months ago, Heidi found out she was pregnant. She is still in school. The babys father left her. She asked me to be with her when the baby is born.

A few months ago, Anthony started seeing someone. His girlfriend is very jealous of my friendship with him and the fact that his daughter looks up to me. Heidi and the girlfriend dont really get along. Heidi asked me again if I would go with her when she goes into labor and I told her yes.

Should I honor Heidis wishes and be there with her, or should I stay away until after the baby is born? I dont want to hurt anyone.

FRIEND IN OHIO

DEAR FRIEND: Of course you should honor Heidis wishes and be there for her. She is probably nervous and frightened about the delivery, and you would be a comfort to her. If the girlfriend doesnt like it, that will be her problem. Please dont make it yours.

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