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Re: What do I owe my dead father's girlfriend?

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Message 1 of 12

Jane, 

 

Thank you so much for your advice. I truly appreciate it. I have already purchased the Dance of Anger and look forward to reading it!

 

Take care,

Diana 

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Re: What do I owe my dead father's girlfriend?

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Message 2 of 12

@b746162d wrote:

Thank you so much, Jane for your caring and thoughful response!

 

Thank you for helping me remember that so many things can happen in my stepmother's life. I would love for her to meet another man and find some happiness and be less lonely. Maybe I won't have to have as large a role as I believe she wants me to have. At the very lease, I hope that after our conversation yesterday she'll think through these issues and come to the conclusion that there are other people in her life that she can (or should) involve, and that it won't just be my husband and me. 

 

My sister is a difficult case. She's 36 and has always been unstable. She's been diagnosed with depression and anxiety and ADD, but I believe she has borderline personality disorder, and perhaps agoraphobia. She has only be hospitalized once, after a suicide attempt as a teenager. Since then none of her crises has risen to the level of her needing to be institutionalized. Until a few years ago she was able to function - hold down a job and support herself at least. Still she was unstable, had no social life, and lived alone, worked from home, and was isolated. Then she was laid off three years ago and it sent her into a dark place. She hasn't gotten on her feet since then.

 

Right now she lives rent-free in a basement apartment in a house owned by relatives. She barely goes out and spends a lot of time sleeping. She makes plans but then doesn't show up and disappears for days. When you finally reach her she says she was sleeping or her phone was off. She picks up freelance work here and there but my mother essentially supports her even though she can't afford to (I believe this jeopardizes her retirement).My sisters lacks insight into her mental health issues. She sees a therapist and is on psychiatric medication so she thinks she is getting treatment; but this treatment is clearly not working effectively. I don't believe she has ever received the proper diagnosis and treatment. I have been saying this to both my mother and sister for years, but nothing changes. When I express concern and try to point out to my sister that she has trouble functioning, she says I am just criticizing her and making her feel bad about herself. 

 

I have talked until I'm blue in the face to both my mother and my sister about applying for disability and generally making use of the social safety net. I started the disability application for my sister but she has to finish it. That was weeks ago. My mother is an enabler and in denial of the depth of my sister's illness. She has mental health issues of her own. Any time I get involved I get resistance from both of them. I believe it is my mother's job to once and for all get my sister sorted out in a sustainable way of life.  My mother says that my sister has to be the one to get the help she needs and she can't force her to do anything; but my sister is too sick for this kind of self-care. 

 

It's a nightmare. 

 

Since my daughter was born I have stepped back and removed myself from the dysfunction and drama. It's not healthy for me. But the question remains: What happens to my sister once my mother dies? I've asked my mother this, and she gets offended. She doesn't want to face reality. 

 

Whoa  - apologies for the long rant! Thanks for listening!

 

  


Girl, you rant any old time.

Well let's see. I'm thinking it's a very healthy thing that you stepped back from the drama. Part of mental illness is the damage to the exact thing that would help the healing: volition, ambition, any bit of ooooomph to overcome the negative voices and inertia. Oh lord, if we could fix the inertia aspect of depression, we'd have a big leap towards a cure.

 

I am a psychotherapist after years of medical social work (geriatric care management, home hospice, cancer care). And i've been in therapy myself off and on for ever. Since i was 16. Here's my thought. Or rather, three thoughts. 

 

One is that you grab a copy the most recent edition of The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner. The female predicament writ large. You will feel affirmed. Buy it ontape so you can listen to it while changing the diaper or commuting. Classic. Very wise.

 

Know that you have (at least) 3 choices.  An odd duck of a theoretician for family therapy name of Bowen came up with Bowen Family System therapy. He said we have the choice to a) become enmeshed in other people's issues, b) detach completely from them in the form of cut off/estrangement, disappearance, or c) be in relationship in a healthy way, healthy for you (no martyrdom) and healthy for them (they do as much as they can for themselves.)  It is very hard to do #3 but it is the best way. By the way, Alanon works on the same principle and says, don't dump, and don't be codependent: be connected but detached, in love.

 

Thirdly, find thee a therapist. Even a monthly dose of support in which you are the center of the universe for 50 minutes would be refreshing and life giving. 

 

As they say in Alanon, take what you like and leave the rest. And i've enjoyed our little chat. :-)   My own chaos is much less interesting.

 

Ta ta for now.

jane

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Re: What do I owe my dead father's girlfriend?

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Message 3 of 12

Thank you so much, Jane for your caring and thoughful response!

 

Thank you for helping me remember that so many things can happen in my stepmother's life. I would love for her to meet another man and find some happiness and be less lonely. Maybe I won't have to have as large a role as I believe she wants me to have. At the very lease, I hope that after our conversation yesterday she'll think through these issues and come to the conclusion that there are other people in her life that she can (or should) involve, and that it won't just be my husband and me. 

 

My sister is a difficult case. She's 36 and has always been unstable. She's been diagnosed with depression and anxiety and ADD, but I believe she has borderline personality disorder, and perhaps agoraphobia. She has only be hospitalized once, after a suicide attempt as a teenager. Since then none of her crises has risen to the level of her needing to be institutionalized. Until a few years ago she was able to function - hold down a job and support herself at least. Still she was unstable, had no social life, and lived alone, worked from home, and was isolated. Then she was laid off three years ago and it sent her into a dark place. She hasn't gotten on her feet since then.

 

Right now she lives rent-free in a basement apartment in a house owned by relatives. She barely goes out and spends a lot of time sleeping. She makes plans but then doesn't show up and disappears for days. When you finally reach her she says she was sleeping or her phone was off. She picks up freelance work here and there but my mother essentially supports her even though she can't afford to (I believe this jeopardizes her retirement).My sisters lacks insight into her mental health issues. She sees a therapist and is on psychiatric medication so she thinks she is getting treatment; but this treatment is clearly not working effectively. I don't believe she has ever received the proper diagnosis and treatment. I have been saying this to both my mother and sister for years, but nothing changes. When I express concern and try to point out to my sister that she has trouble functioning, she says I am just criticizing her and making her feel bad about herself. 

 

I have talked until I'm blue in the face to both my mother and my sister about applying for disability and generally making use of the social safety net. I started the disability application for my sister but she has to finish it. That was weeks ago. My mother is an enabler and in denial of the depth of my sister's illness. She has mental health issues of her own. Any time I get involved I get resistance from both of them. I believe it is my mother's job to once and for all get my sister sorted out in a sustainable way of life.  My mother says that my sister has to be the one to get the help she needs and she can't force her to do anything; but my sister is too sick for this kind of self-care. 

 

It's a nightmare. 

 

Since my daughter was born I have stepped back and removed myself from the dysfunction and drama. It's not healthy for me. But the question remains: What happens to my sister once my mother dies? I've asked my mother this, and she gets offended. She doesn't want to face reality. 

 

Whoa  - apologies for the long rant! Thanks for listening!

 

  

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Re: What do I owe my dead father's girlfriend?

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Message 4 of 12

Sounds like an awesomely candid and caring conversation on both your parts. Funny... now i'm feeling protective for you! Going to see an attorney sounds like you're jumping forward and maybe taking on too much!  But you are obviously smart and conscientious, and keeping so many peoples' needs in mind, so i totally trust your judgment. You have a lot on your plate, and it's not just your plate: your husband is with you in this, especially for his parents. There may be other relatives to keep in mind as helpers and teammates as you all look ahead, and take care of the present. With a toddler, you are busy!

 

I maybe showing my bias here, but I'm almost 58 and my partner is 69. There is a great deal of living left for your father's girlfriend to do, and lots of decisions. I don't know what she does for a living, but why does she want to work for 10 more years?!  Yipers. And what about her estranged family? You are a younger friend to her, she is family in a broad sense, and you can help her (and you) figure out how to plan ahead in general and specifically. 

 

I'm hearing your concern for your disabled sister. Lord, that's a tough one. Just keeping an ear out for her will be a trying, draining experience. Oy. We have a disabled young man in our family. Maybe helping your folks do research on options for her? Know that, with mental illness, all the best planning can lay waste at your feet in a crisis.

 

I also hear that you are indeed being caring and doing the right thing, which is helping, but not taking on her entire universe of care. In some ways she has an opportunity to grow up, having been with a wonderful man, and cared for him, and now 2 years after his death, she needs to move forward. Sounds like she wasn't intending to use you, but, in some amount of laziness and fear, attached herself more strongly to you. She might meet another man, might move back near to her blood kin, might rent a cabin on a cruise ship and live out her days in the high seas. Or she might have a stroke/ cancer diagnosis/ or early onset dementia issue. Her life is her own. You are part of her network, but you aren't the only human in her world.

 

This is such an interesting predicament, and will come up more and more for all of us as we age and there are more people (like Astraea) who do not have a natural family system, where there are childless people, and divorced/ step/ informal families struggling along. And as the old jazz tune says, Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die. No one wants to plan ahead for future disability, and everyone wants some sort of hallmark cardlike peaceful passing surrounded by loved ones. 

 

Best of luck with all of it. And if you want to and find it useful, keep writing and reading and writing. You have a great deal of insight.  Please give a kiss on the head to your precious daughter from me.

 

Jane

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Re: What do I owe my dead father's girlfriend?

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Message 5 of 12

Hi JaneCares, 

 

Thanks so much for following up. I should explain that my initial post was pretty harsh, and not truly reflective of how it feel, which is ambivalent. I want to be generous and loving, I really do. 

 

When I wrote it I was afraid that my stepmother was taking advantage of me. Around the time she started calling me her stepdaughter and telling me she loved me was when she was dealing with all of the responsibilities of her own elderly mother with dementia who lives far away (taking off work to go there and clean out and sell her house, research and select a nursing home, coordinating her care, etc). Around this time she talked to me a couple of times about how she is worried about the end of her life and that she wanted me to be her executor, health care proxy, and power of attorney. To me it felt like a blanket statement that I was going to be the only one responsible for her end of life affairs. 

 

I consider her family, and want to continue to have a relationship with her. We spend a day together every 2-3 months and that feels right to me. My daughter is only 16 months old so it's not like they have a real relationship yet. But I do see the value in my daughter having a third grandmother. However, given our level of intimacy, me taking ownership for "whatever comes" in her future is too much. 

 

We saw her yesterday and I brought up the topic. This was a hard conversation to have, but it went really well. I told her I wanted to know more about what these roles would mean for me and my family, what are my responsibilities, what is her vision of her end of life? I found out that really she hasn't thought at all about any of this -- she doesn't want to. She is 68 and healthy and assumes she will be able to keep working for at least another decade, plans to live in her home until the end of her life, and then "just die." I gently forced her to consider the myriad of other scenarios that are possible: she could need home care a couple of days a week, or assisted living, or a nursing home, or all of the above. And I would need to know what her wishes are for these scenarios. And what kind of facility would she be able to afford? She says it would have to be covered by Medicare/Medicaid, because she won't have money to pay for it. She didn't suggest that my husband and I take her in or that we pay for her care, which was reassuring, because neither of those are possible. I genuinely believe that she does not want to be a burden to us. Nobody wants that. 

 

I am willing to serve in these roles for her, as long as everything is planned in advance and the confines of my role are established. All the possible scenarios must be considered and put down in writing. She says she is going to do more research and think about what she wants. The first step after that would be for both of us (and my husband) to meet with an attorney. I am confidant that during this process I will be able to draw boundaries and set her expectations regarding what I will and will not do. My only concern at this point is that she keeps talking about doing all this "when the time comes," but in my experience people say this and don't realize when the "time has come." So I will do what I can to encourage her to figure this out sooner rather than later. 

 

No matter what some of the commenters have said about "doing the right thing", taking on the responsibility for some else's life can be an enormous burden that could lead to years of hardship, stress, and money; it could become a second job. How is it "doing the right thing" if attending to my stepmother's needs takes away from my ability to attend to my own daughters needs? I live over 3 hours away from my stepmother, and have a family of my own, an aging mother of my own, and a middle-aged sister who can't take care of herself due to mentall illness. I won't sacrifice myself or my family's well being in order to "do the right thing."

 

 

So, to answer your final question. I think there is a middle way, and I hope we can find it through planning, honest communication, and legal guidance. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

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Re: What do I owe my dead father's girlfriend?

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Message 6 of 12

You've gotten quite a range of responses. I'll chime in, too. I lean toward Astraea's sense of things, on the spectrum of responses. She is lonely and has chosen you to be a kind of daughter, and a responsible party. I wonder if there's a middle way. If i were her friend, as you are, though reluctantly, I would be frank and kind. That you feel as though it is a very heavy responsibility, and you are honored, but you cannot accept it. What you can do is say, how about those far away relatives of yours, from whom you are estranged? Is there anyone in that group that might begin to be a closer ally? is healing possible, reconciliation?  She is still young and able bodied. She has some choices here. 

 

Is there any one piece that you COULD take on?  If there was another person who partnered with you who is blood kin? 

 

Does your daughter enjoy this woman? Is there value to keeping your father's girlfriend in your daughter's life?

 

If she does not have adequate funds for her eventual health needs, you would not be considered responsible even if you took her on, hook line and sinker. She'd be eligible for long term care medicaid as everyone is, even though she is over income now. Everyone but the top 5% of our country is eventually eligible. it's just too expensive. So worry not about that.

 

with all this advice, what is resonating for you? what makes sense?  What is the generous choice? The loving choice? Which does not mean that you sacrifice yourself. Is there a middle way?

 

What do you think?

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Message 7 of 12

Thanks so much for weighing in. I truly appreciate it.

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Re: What do I owe my dead father's girlfriend?

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Message 8 of 12
Astraea, Great advice and you worded in a soft way. I read this earlier and had some thoughts, but was afraid I would not say them as carefully as I should.

I do think she should talk with this woman honestly and give her the chance to make some other arrangements. I believe if she is honest with her, she will want to find another avenue. I also wondered if she was going to have a financial gain from the women who took care of her father. In today's times, not all people have close family and I think it an honor if someone includes me as an "adopted" part of their family. My friend that died did this for me. I cherish the years I could call him my adopted brother and miss him more than I do blood relatives that are gone. I would so love to pick up the phone and call for his wonderful advice.

I pray this "family that does not cherish the role" will do the right thing. Life is not always easy and built into a tidy mold. There is also an old saying, "What goes round, comes round." Hope I have that right.

Soosie
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Re: What do I owe my dead father's girlfriend?

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Message 9 of 12

@b746162d - I'm curious to know how you'd feel about this woman, if she & your father had married. You're only in your early 40s, but many people your father's age don't remarry for legal/financial considerations, not because they don't love each other as much! Your father obviously trusted this woman a lot, to make her his executor .. rather than you, and it sounds like she took care of him during his decline & afterward, as well as any wife with a marriage license.

 

We don't all like or click with every relative we have, but sometimes we evaluate our relationships based on the person's kindness & consideration. While you might not want to take on all of this woman's care & estate responsibilities or expenses, she's the closest thing to a grandparent your children will have on "your side". No one can "make you" responsible for them, without your approval, but she obviously has a genuine feeling for you & your family, if only based on her relationship with your father, and the bonding with you after his death. You could sit down with her & talk about your concerns, and limits of your time & financial ability to help her. Maybe you could help her with guidance & some oversight.

 

FWIT - I'm single, have no siblings or children, and am in a bind myself, as far as selecting an executor. I think I'd feel heartbroken, if I were in this woman's shoes, and you just told me you were "too busy" to help in the least bit.


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Message 10 of 12

Thanks you so much for your opinion!

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