Friday, October 24, 2008

Complex Family Situation

Be warned. This is a long and boring post about a complex family situation that I just have to get off my chest.

I know most of us have crazy family members. I know I have my share. In my family there is depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. I'll take depression, which is what I urrr...manage with...over the others any day. WP, my partner of five years and future husband is a lovable nut. I'm not quite sure that he's certifiably mad but he is eccentric and and a sort of mad scientist sort with a very high IQ and little interpersonal skills to speak of. I think that's why he decided to keep me. Because I have such a high emotional IQ. Ha! That may very well be true about figuring people out but another thing altogether actually dealing with people who are off their rockers. In the case I'm going to write about: his family. Namely his mother and sister.

I love WP's mother A. She's 87 years old. She's gone downhill a bit since she experienced heart problems for the first time a couple of years ago. Previous to that, she was proud to tell anyone who would listen that the only medication she took everyday was a baby aspirin. The nurses at the local hospital got a run for their paycheck while she was there. Even though she's gracious and well-spoken as can be: watch out. When I first met her five years ago, she was hiking and cross-country skiing with her "girlfriends" who are all between ten and fifteen years her junior. She reads voraciously. She does difficult crossword puzzles in pen. She is independent, outspoken and a very dear person. Except when she spends too much time with WP's sister AA. Which would tax anyone.

AA is 60 years old and has currently been on medical leave from her job at a pharmacy. She has been divorced for many, many years and lives alone. She's a certified nurse and holds certifications in pharmacy work. I'm not familiar with that type of work so I can't tell you about it. Like WP, she has a very high IQ but where WP has maturity, common sense and good judgement, AA has the mental age of, as WP puts it, a twelve year-0ld. She is also totally mad. I used to doubt this until a couple of years ago when the patterns that WP had told me about began to be evident.

The constant accidents, first of all. Several times throughout the five years I've been a part of this family, AA has broken ribs and a foot, fallen down the stairs and bruised her body from shoulder to ankle. She claims to have been attacked twice by strangers who ran off without being identified and has claimed to feel threatened by people who have tried to help her when she has experienced these accidents. She has scalded her hand. Had a bracelet get caught on something at her apartment and had to have firemen come to cut if off her wrist. She is a regular visitor to the local ER, obviously. When she discusses her many accidents, she does so under the pretense that these incidents are a normal part of everyday life and can happen to anyone. She is short on details. On one hand she dismisses it when we've shown concern. On the other, she's always touching on these things in conversation, leaving all of us unsure about how to react.

I didn't mention yet that in 2005, AA's 25 year-old daughter killed herself. I didn't know her daughter; had only met her once. She was apparently estranged from her mother but had some contact with her father and stepmother. It was a tragedy beyond any I've ever gone through with anyone in my life. This incident has, naturally, done an even bigger number on AA. She doesn't deny this and yet she doesn't present it, so to speak, as the event that's triggered all of her many problems. We don't believe it's at the core of her problems either. We have so little to go on, though. We know she sees a shrink (psychiatrist) and a therapist and that she takes medication. But we see her getting worse.

AA is on medical leave officially for physical problems. She's been undergoing every test known to modern medicine and all the doctors have come up with is some indecipherable term for a pinched nerve in the neck; supposedly from a fall. And this folks is what she's hanging on to for dear life as the explanation for why she can't return to work. Her medical leave is about to run out at the end of this month and AA has nothing in place for herself other than to leave her apartment and move in with WP's mother A. Which will be disastrous!

WP's mother doesn't want her to move in because they don't live well together. There is a history of AA moving in with her mother before and it failed miserably, putting a strain on their relationship and causing AA to move into an apartment she couldn't afford just to get away from her living situation. Now AA wants to repeat this scenario, except now her mother is 87 years old and having problems with her heart. Basically, A is a total wreck over her daughter AA's situation.

While AA says to her mother "I'll take care of you, Mom", we hear A telling us about how AA sleeps until 2 or 3 p.m. and doesn't do a thing to help around the house. AA can't even take care of herself, how will she be of any use to her very elderly mother? Yet A can't say no to her daughter about moving in with her.

I've tried to talk to AA about her difficulties. Before she passed away, WP's wife, who was a clinical social worker, tried to help AA and her daughter who killed herself. To no avail. WP's wife threw up her hands finally and said that AA is unwilling or unable to help herself or to benefit from the help of others.

WP is beside himself. He's angry at his sister for being, as he puts it, "useless" and he's had enough experience with AA to know that she is beyond help.

I had a discussion with AA a few weeks back about considering applying for disability. She avoided the topic of disability benefits but did latch on to a conversation about receiving food stamps, for which she is eligible currently. Her conclusion is that someone else might need it more than she does. This to me is maddening. She doesn't want food stamps but is willing to tax the limited resources of her elderly mother. Ugh. I'm seeing evidence of what WP's told me about his sister all along. And what about health insurance? How will she get health coverage without a job or disability benefits in place?

AA has declared bankruptcy twice. According to what WP and his mother A have told me, going bankrupt was a result of very poor financial choices and taking on pets that she couldn't afford to pay the vet bills for.

As you can see, we have our hands full with this situation. WP and I are strapped from putting our kids through college. And I won't be done paying off loans for many years to come. We aren't in a position of being able to help AA in any sort of significant way financially. We can help her short term and we would never let her starve or be out on the street but we can't subsidize her life. Talking with AA, one gets the feeling that she thinks rescue will come to her somehow on its own.

WP and I have seriously discussed talking to AA openly and honestly about the concerns I've just outlined. We're both afraid that she'll do herself in, truthfully. Recently, WP's mother told AA that she should "grow up and face reality" and AA's response to that was to say that A exacerbated her PTSD and that she would now have nightmares for the rest of her life. She apparently huffed off.

I took the day off from work today because I felt like crap this morning. I'm feeling a bit better and I'm planning on going over to WP's mother's house to talk to her and give her some support. I honestly don't know what to do about WP's sister or even how to counsel him as to how to proceed.

Feedback, anyone?


  1. Okay, sphinx, here's what I think and it comes from experience. You and WP have to let AA and A live their lives. You may have the best advice (AA applying for disability, AA not moving in with A, etc.) but you are dealing with people who are not listening. You aggravate yourselves and make yourselves sick and that's just not good. You believe you are trying to help them avoid bad things happening in their lives but they aren't listening. What will happen will happen. You can't make yourselves crazy because the people around you (even though they are very close relatives) are "crazy." In my case, I've learned to back off, stay off the phone, talk to them only when I have to. I don't know if you and WP can do this. Letting go even if you are fearful of what will happen... I know this sounds harsh but I'm telling you you can't control their lives or even solve any of their problems. It's very hard, I know. I wish you this best with a very difficult situation.

  2. I don't want you to think I am unfeeling and unsympathetic to your difficult family situation. I read over what I wrote in the previous comment and it sounds unfeeling. I don't mean to but I've tried so hard to help in my family, to be there for them and they just did their own thing. They were extremely self-absorbed and there I was suffering because I wanted to help them so much. Protect yourself if you can, sphinx.

  3. the teach: I don't think your comment is uncaring or unfeeling. It sounds like you've learned to cope with your own family situations by refusing to take on their difficulties. I'm afraid that could very well be what WP and I must do as well.

    Your so right about people not listening. Both WP's mother and sister sort of just let what you gently try to tell them go over their heads. It's like there's this shield around them that they think protects them from the truth which is evident to everyone but to them.

    It's interesting that you are concerned about sounding unfeeling in your comment because I was worried by how detached I come across in the post. It's hard, though, to see people's lives go down the drain like that. But I believe you may very well be correct that all it will do is drive us nuts. We are also selfishly wondering how much of a mess we may be require to clean-up eventually and perhaps our desire is simply for some damage control to minimize our endeavors. Sigh.

    Thank you for your comment, teach. Again, I think you are probably quite right on with your advise.

  4. I must say, I agree with the teach. That is such a difficult situation and I can understand how hard it is to stand aside and watch the potential trainwreck taking place in slow motion.

    I hope you and WP can find peace in knowing that you're doing what you can within reason in an unreasonable situation.

  5. There are times when we have to turn inward, to those we most love and trust(WP& You), and let the rest of the world go the way it wants to, hard as that might be...I have alot of this sort of thing in my family of mother and brothers as well as my husband's bunch of crazies and they would suck me/us in in a heartbeat, if they could! And they could care less it's effect on us/ must realize that you cannot "help" these people, even tho you want to..they must help themselves, stand up for themselves, take care of themselves and only they can do and WP will be sucked into a maelstrom if you go "there"....I know it's hard, seems impossible to ignore, all that, but you will only have peace if you stay away from it sounds like a recipe for impending disaster and if it is, you don't want to be in the middle with the buildings crashing in on you. You know? And you don't need all the bills and guaranteed, you will get them ALL.

    I think you already know this but I also think you would like to help WP , and if that means his family well then, so it goes....don't do it. You cannot win in that situation with these types of people.

  6. Oh - wow! That is big, big, big.

    I think however the teach gets it right for the most part.

    It is hard to not be involved, but I am doubtful that there is much you can do.

    It sucks to let go and seemingly standby, but I don't know that other than letting A know how much you support her, that there is much you can do.

    And AA - I am sorry to say this - sounds toxic. It is sad.

  7. i agree with teach.

    been there. back there again.

    sometimes you just have to let the fates rule.

    they have their path, you have yours. you can be supportive without supporting.

    good vibes and thoughts your way.

  8. Actually, AA is an interesting sort of "toxic". She's mostly taken on a victim role and she's taken a few prisoners along the way but mostly she's just...I hate to say it...but really pathetic. She can't or won't or doesn't know how to take responsibility for herself and then she cries and gets "sick" and "injured" over the consequences.

    All I can do is be kind to her when she comes over. Lately, she and A have been dropping by at least twice a week without calling. They're WP's family and there is this understanding that it's ok. I respect that because if it were my mother and sibling, I'd probably want it that way too. My own mother would probably call first but she doesn't live in town and she knows Wayne much less well than I know A. I don't mind that too much...

    More later.


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