Dear Abby

DEAR ABBY: My older sister does not pick up her phone unless her boyfriend calls. They have a system worked out to let her know when it's him. She has an answering machine, but its message limit is always full.

She has told everyone that, in case of emergency, they should contact her neighbors, her employer, the police, or — if she is camping — the campground police.

Since when is it the responsibility of others to take and deliver messages for her when she makes herself unavailable? What makes it worse is she has a quadriplegic son in frail health who lives on his own with a caregiver. Although my sister makes medical decisions for him, the caregiver is never certain whether Sis can be reached if needed.

Abby, how do you handle such a person?

— DISGUSTED IN UTAH

DEAR DISGUSTED: Your sister is sending a strong message that she doesn't want to be disturbed, nor does she want any real contact with you. I'd "handle it" by taking a giant step back emotionally and contacting her only in case of emergency, in the manner she has requested.

The caregiver is another matter. Because of the son's frail health, the caregiver should be able to speak directly to your sister in the event that an emergency should arise that requires an immediate medical intervention.

DEAR ABBY: I am a 59-year-old woman who has been dating men in their 40s. At first, I refused because I thought they were too young for me and people might laugh. Since then, I have decided that as long as they know from the beginning that I'm not looking for a serious committed relationship, I'd be happy to go out. I have made some great friends and had some great times.

Abby, why do you think younger men are attracted to older women? I'm not exceptionally pretty nor do I have a great body, but I am a caring, fun person who loves music and dancing. Do you think you could poll your readers and get some feedback from men who date older women as to why they do?

— "COUGAR" IN NEW YORK

DEAR "COUGAR": Lord, I hate that word because it implies (to me) that the older woman is somehow predatory, and the men who find her attractive are helpless prey.

If I were to hazard a guess, I'd say it's because many older women are independent, self-confident, worldly and not looking for commitment. Those qualities can be very attractive if a man isn't looking for commitment either.

Men, I'll be interested in your comments.

DEAR ABBY: I have just learned that my husband has lung cancer. He has known for almost a year and decided to keep it to himself.

We have been separated for a while, and he lives in another town nearby. We have two children — both in their teens. I am the only person who knows about his illness.

He has decided not to follow his doctors' advice and is using an alternative treatment. I love him dearly, and I think he should tell the kids. He refuses. Don't you think they have a right to know? Please help me! — CARRYING A HEAVY BURDEN

DEAR CARRYING: Your children should definitely know, and the person who should give them that information is their father. People often take for granted that their time with the people they love is infinite, and your children are no exception. If their father's time is limited, they might want to spend as much of it as they can with him — and your husband should allow them to do it. The memories they make during this precious time may be all they have of their father.

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.