Dear Abby: I am in a county jail for parole violation. I am an addict, which is why I'm in this not-so-welcoming environment. I accept full responsibility for being here because ultimately it was my actions that guaranteed me confinement in jail. I read your column every day and find hope within it.
I have been struck with some not-so-good news while here. On a recent visit with my parents I learned my mother, who suffers from a variety of health problems, can no longer work. My father, who must work to cover the cost of her medical care, has been diagnosed with liver cancer.
This is very difficult for me. My father is my absolute best friend. I have to be strong for my mother. I want to scream and cry and sometimes lash out, but my inner adult (I'm 26) tells me that would be immature.
I don't feel like I have come to terms with my father's illness. Although I know what is eventually to come, I have yet to feel any emotion, good or bad. I'm not sure if I'm blocking it or if I'm being the strong-willed adult I was raised to be by my father and best friend. I was never raised with the "men don't cry" or "be strong for your mother" concept. Am I repressing my emotions? And if so, is there anything I can do to start dealing with this? – Just Another Inmate in Pennsylvania
Dear Just: All people do not react to bad news in the same way – crying, screaming or lashing out. Some go numb for a period of time, until they are ready to process their emotions. Part of your problem may be that because you're incarcerated, you feel helpless.
Not knowing whether psychological counseling is available for prisoners in your jail – or how effective it is if it's offered at all – I'm recommending you discuss this with a chaplain. It would be a safe way to air some of the emotions you are struggling with. You have my sympathy.
Dear Abby: I am the mother of a "yours, mine and ours" family. Between us, my husband and I have six children. I have been "Mom" for his three children since the oldest was 6. Fifteen years have passed, and I raised all of them as my own. Because the stress of such a large family has taken its toll at times, I have said I couldn't wait until everyone was 18 and out of the house.
Three of the children are on their own now and three remain. The youngest is 14. I recently took my 18-year-old son to the Air Force recruiter to take his entrance test and as I watched him walk into the building, I started to cry. I realized I don't really want them to go away.
I have been a parent since I was 17, and now – at 40 – I'm having a hard time imagining life without them. I'm afraid of having only my husband to keep me occupied. There has never been a time without kids around. I'm afraid it'll be like starting our relationship all over again, and he may not like what he sees. How can I get past the fear of not being needed or wanted anymore? – Almost Empty-Nested in Vermont
Dear Almost Empty-Nested: Instead of allowing fear or anxiety to drag you down, look at the bright side. Your nest will be full for four more years – and if there is something about yourself that you see that YOU don't like, there is plenty of time to do something about it.
You are more than "just" a mother. Because your responsibilities as a parent have lightened, use the time to broaden your horizons and develop some mutual interests with your husband that you couldn't before. Sometimes we can be our own harshest critics – so be a little kinder to yourself and consider what I have said. It is heartfelt.
Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.