KATHY MITCHELL AND MARCY SUGAR \ Annie's Mailbox Stepmother might need help caring for Dad

Dear Annie: A few years after my mother died of cancer, my Dad, age 60, married "Lucinda," a woman 14 years younger. We were happy for him, and for the first 12 years of his marriage, we all got along great. But nine years ago, Dad had a stroke.
Lucinda realized this was a huge burden, and for the first few years they tried to make as much out of life as possible. But now, in his 80s, Dad lies in bed all day, getting up only for meals and to use the bathroom, walking slowly with a walker. Lucinda works full time, and Dad is home alone. An aide comes once a week to give him a shower and shave.
We suggested to Lucinda that since Dad has an excellent pension, she might consider working part time, or hiring the aide to come in more often, or even that Dad be put in a nursing home for better care. He fell once and fractured some ribs. But Lucinda refuses anything that costs money. If we buy clothes for him, she returns them for cash. On a 90-degree day, the central air conditioning is off. Visiting them is difficult, as her work hours vary greatly.
What can be done to make the quality of Dad's life better and still get along with the gold digger? She barely speaks to us now. Stepchildren
Dear Stepchildren: Caring for a stroke victim cannot possibly be easy. Plus, you don't know how much of Dad's pension they've run through in the last nine years. The financial situation may not be as stable as you think. And you can't blame Lucinda for wanting to be sure there is enough money for her to live on after Dad's pension runs out or if he leaves all his remaining money to his children.
Have you offered to contribute toward Dad's care, either by paying for an aide or by taking the time to watch him? Perhaps if you approach Lucinda as an ally and ask what you can do to make her job easier, it will heal the breach and get results. If you believe Dad is being abused (we're worried about the lack of air conditioning), you should contact your state abuse hot line.
Dear Annie: After reading your column urging people to send cards or visit veterans on Valentine's Day, I was inspired to contact the VA hospital at Bay Pines in St. Petersburg, Fla.
I am a soprano who performs several one-woman musical programs (along with my accompanist, Caroline Decker). When I spoke with Stuart Seidell of the Bay Pines recreation staff, he invited us to sing for the veterans.
We drove up from Sarasota early on the morning after Valentine's Day. Annie, I've been singing for many years, but I can't remember a more appreciative audience or a more rewarding experience. We were flooded with accolades, warm words of appreciation and invitations to return. Bill Schmit of the recreation staff was so helpful with the piano and microphones, and even volunteered to dance a segment of the program with me.
Thank you for encouraging all of us to show our appreciation for these veterans. We got back so much in return. Irene Herman
Dear Irene: What a lovely thing to do. It must have been the "high note" of the day.
Dear Annie: I read the letter from the man who wanted a snappy comeback when someone commented on his height. I am just about 5 feet, and when people ask me how tall I am, I reply that I am tall enough to get on the rides. T.B.
Dear T.B.: And we know many 10-year-olds who envy you. Thanks for supplying a cute response.
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