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Kleptomania is a sickness

Deal with tragic loss by talking to therapist, clergy

SHARE Kleptomania is a sickness

Dear Abby: In April 1986, you printed a letter from a woman who had lost a child and subsequently started stealing things from a friend.

Please run it again. I know it would be helpful for people who are suffering loss. God bless you. — Mrs. N. in Carlsbad, Calif.

Dear Mrs. N.: Grief can manifest itself in many different ways. I'm pleased to print that letter again. Read on:

Dear Abby: Two years ago my 2-year-old son died tragically. His death was a great shock to me. I expected to go through the normal grieving process, and I did.

However, something unexpected happened. I started to steal. I had no use for anything I took, but I was helpless to stop. Even more disturbing, I stole from people I love and am very close to. This began soon after the death of my son and stopped a few months ago.

The death of my son and the terrible guilt I felt over stealing nearly drove me to suicide twice.

I want very much to return the items I took and apologize to the owners. However, I am afraid they will probably say they "understand," but they'll never trust me in their homes again.

Please don't tell me to seek professional help because my compulsion to steal seems to have left me as quickly as it came.

I need some answers. I've never stolen anything in my life before this. Why did I steal — especially from people I'm close to? The guilt and confusion are weighing me down. Please help me. I want to make everything better, but I don't know how. — Confused and Guilty

Dear Confused: Your compulsion to steal (transitory kleptomania) was triggered by your tragic loss. You unconsciously tried to compensate for your loss by taking from others because something had been taken from you. You stole from those close to you because you unconsciously envied and resented them for not having had to suffer the way you did.

You need more help than I can give you in a letter. You seem to be a fine and decent person who was temporarily destabilized by a terrible loss. You stole to "equalize" things. Forgive yourself, my friend. What you did was sick, and sickness is no crime.

You need absolution and counseling. Please see a therapist and a clergyperson if you have one.

Pauline Phillips and her daughter Jeanne Phillips share the pseudonym Abigail Van Buren. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069. Good advice for everyone — teens to seniors — is in "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby, Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)© Universal Press Syndicate