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Friend's degenerative disease might beg disclosure

DEAR AMY: My dearest friend of more than 30 years, "Sarah," was diagnosed a few years ago with Parkinson's. As she is still a very active and successful executive at a big, highly competitive firm, she has chosen to keep her illness secret from everyone but her doctors, her husband, and me. She has not even told her adult sons. When asked by anyone else about her unsteadiness and shaking hands, Sarah explains that she has essential tremor, a benign condition. However, despite medication, she is becoming noticeably frail, with increasingly obvious tremors, a weakening voice, and an unsteady gait. Yesterday "Kitty," a mutual friend, expressed concern and asked me outright if Sarah has Parkinson's. I said that I understood that she has essential tremor. Kitty wasn't buying that explanation, and said, with genuine compassion, that it was obvious to her and others that Sarah is suffering from Parkinson's. I suggested that she express her concern discreetly to Sarah, if she felt it necessary. My dilemma is whether to let Sarah know that her attempts to conceal her condition are no longer working. I absolutely don't want to add to her stress, but I also feel dishonest not discussing the issue with her. What should I do?

Friend on Shaky Ground

DEAR FRIEND: People with chronic and degenerative diseases often don't want to disclose their illness for a variety of reasons. Professionally, they fear that disclosure can present a variety of serious challenges, including being discriminated against, not receiving choice assignments, and even being fired.

The Parkinson's Foundation (parkinson.org) notes that "the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was created, in part, to keep employers from discriminating against people with disabilities or certain health conditions when they are hired, on the job, or being fired." Disclosing sooner rather than later will alert the employer that they are required to make reasonable accommodations.

Your friend has the right to keep her condition private, and her wisdom in disclosing this only to you is obvious: you have taken her privacy very seriously.

Yes, it sounds as if it is time for you to discuss this with her. Simply report to her that your mutual friend is very concerned about her health. Don't ask her if it is time for her to disclose — she will decide this on her own. Do offer her your continued friendship and discretion if she wants to discuss her options with you.

DEAR AMY: MUST we share the holidays with our (much, much, much younger) wife of our father? When we reached adulthood, she ripped apart our family — our very happy family that our dad tried to come back to. She gloats about having ALL the money, money, money; talks sex, sex, sex, sexy-talk (because she was 40 years younger than our mom), and she makes fun of all of us (according to her we are a bunch of loser-fatties). She's younger than all of us and 50 pounds lighter than we are. Our dad is soooo very frail and elderly and we have witnessed her bellowing at him in an evil manner. Yes, he left ALL the money to her and she is now holding it over our heads. (Dumb move on his part because I do not want or need the money). I despise this cruel person. The problem is, he is still alive. Barely. I gag every holiday, but I also feel guilty.

Gagging and Guilty

DEAR GAGGING: You sound like a fun bunch.

If there is a way for you to spend time with your father on his own, then you should make every effort to do that. If that is not possible, then yes, you must endure this terrible person because she seems to be the conduit to your father.

If he is being mistreated, then you should do much more than you are doing, which, from your account, is nothing. Stop thinking and talking about the wife and the money. Advocate for your very frail father.

DEAR AMY: Responding to "RBF," who didn't like to be told to smile — I tell people to smile because if you smile, you will feel better. I smile as often as possible, even when answering the phone. Also, if you keep smiling, people will wonder what you are up to. Try returning a smile and see how that makes you feel.

Do It

DEAR DO IT: You should try NOT telling strangers how to hold their faces — and accept them as they are. You'll feel great!

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