Dear Abby: I have just returned from visiting a close friend in the next town. She was exhausted from caring for her husband, who has terminal cancer — but even more so from the many visits from loving friends and relatives around the country.

I experienced the same thing a few years ago, so I'm hoping you will help me to inform people of some basic rules for visiting families going through this profoundly trying experience.

Don't go for a "vacation," but rather to lend support — and only if there is no objection.

Go healthy. Remember, the patient has no immunity after chemotherapy.

Provide your own transportation. Stay in a motel unless the home is large and the hostess has asked you to stay.

Keep visits short and positive. Long conversations are exhausting.

Provide food, preferably ready-cooked for simplicity, and do the cleanup.

Leave the house for periods of time (even a day or two) so the family can resume their medical routine.

Change the bed if you stay in the home. Remember, there is no maid service.

And last, require nothing of the family. There is nothing left for them to give. Thank you, Abby, for letting me speak for so many. —Got It Off my Chest

Dear Got It: Well said. I particularly like your recommendations to stay someplace other than the home, to keep visits short so as not to deplete the patient, and not to expect to be entertained in any way. In life-or-death situations, the normal rules of hospitality do not apply, so ask not what your hosts can do for you, but what you can do for them — and abide by what they tell you.

Dear Abby: I was standing with a friend when another friend came over to us and said loudly, "You two are really short!" The friend I was standing with walked off offended, while I just stood there looking at the ignorant person and not knowing what to say. Let me explain, this isn't the first time the ignoramus has said this to me. What would you do in this situation? —Speechless in Auburn, Calif.

Dear Speechless: Frankly, I'd probably say, "Life is short, and so is this conversation. Goodbye!" Then I'd rejoin the friend I had been standing with. I certainly wouldn't prolong the conversation.

Dear Abby: I was recently invited to a friend's house for the weekend. As I prepared to retire for the night, I realized that the sheets were not clean.

I looked for another set of sheets to change the bed, but couldn't find any. It was late, my hostess had gone to bed and — needless to say — I didn't have a great night's sleep. I didn't want to embarrass her, but I didn't want to sleep on a soiled bed. How would you have handled this? —Sleepless in Colorado

Dear Sleepless: I would have slept on the bedspread or outside the covers, and in the morning I would have asked my hostess for fresh sheets "because the last guest forgot to change the linen."

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 or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069. © Universal PRess Syndicate