DEAR ABBY:

I'm writing in response to "Requires Companionship" (Feb. 7), whose husband has atypical Parkinson's and she's considering dating. My wife was diagnosed nine years ago, and she, too, has reached the point where she can no longer walk, write, or speak. We have, however, found ways to communicate and spend quality time together.

I tried to care for her at home, but over the last year and a half, it became too difficult. With the help of our daughters, we found a wonderful senior living place where she is happy. I go to the gym every morning, then visit with her and have lunch. I bring her clothes home to wash and take care of anything she may need or want. We spend the holidays together with the family at her place to make things special.

We are both 81, married 57 years. I, too, am lonely and sad at times, but I love her more than the world and want to make sure she is well taken care of and content. As for companionship, I have met some wonderful people at the senior living place, as well as at the gym and in restaurants I frequent, which helps with the loneliness.

If the shoe were on the other foot, I know she'd do the same for me. After all, that is what our marriage is all about, "in sickness and in health, 'til death do us part."

- Jim in Nevada

DEAR JIM: Your letter is inspirational. In your P.S. you asked me to print it to help others. Your letter, and others I'm including here, may help to put this sensitive subject into perspective:

DEAR ABBY: I am a young 57-year-old woman. My husband has Parkinson's and brain tumors. We have a son with autism, so I have been a caregiver for more than 30 years of marriage.

To "Requires" I say: Take time for yourself, but do not tell your husband. Enjoy what years you have left and grab some of the happiness you deserve. Don't let anyone tell you that you are cheating on your husband. The life you had with him was over emotionally and physically long ago. You have given up enough of your life. Your husband is having all his needs met and now it's your turn.

Yes, I believe in marriage. But who is going to worry about you? People who judge you don't understand and won't understand. Joining a support group may help, but don't put yourself on the back burner. You count, too. Good luck and God bless.

- Sandra in New Jersey

DEAR ABBY: I'm a 64-year-old woman who was in the same boat for 15 years. My husband was angry, passive-aggressive and reclusive. Leaving him to die on his own (of cancer) was unthinkable. So was actually dating.

What saved my life and sanity was Meetup. With my husband's blessing, I joined and participated in five social groups with different interests - lunch with the ladies, dinners and hikes, craft clubs, etc. I was out with communicative people at least twice a week and came home happier, usually with restaurant treats and stories to share.

"R.C.'s" life does not need to feel like it's over. It's possible to plant new seedlings for the future while not causing any problems now.

- Wishing Her Well in California

DEAR ABBY: As the daughter of someone with Parkinson's, I know what it's like not to be able to talk with a loved one. My mom communicates by writing and using a voice assistance computer.

"R.C.'s" husband didn't ask for this disease. He is feeling lonely, too, but he is not dead. She should work on developing a different approach to communicating with him. These patients may lose the ability to speak, but not the ability to think clearly and see what is going on around them.

- Been There in Pennsylvania