Adult babysitting in paradise? I'd rather not.
January 22, 2009 7:35 AM   Subscribe

What can my mom do about a self-destructive friend of a friend in vacation-land?

My parents moved about ten years ago and my mother found a wonderful best friend in her new town (all of them are in the same age range: mid fifties). Her friend, who we shall call Sarah, introduced her to a slightly (~10 years) older couple who we will call Ted and Liz. Sarah, her husband, Ted, Liz and my parents spent a lot of time together, but my mother has always been closest to Sarah.

About three years ago, Ted was diagnosed with a late-stage cancer; he died about a year ago. Both my mother and Sarah provided Liz with a great deal of support but Liz was facing more than just the loss of her husband; he was pretty much her entire support structure. He took care of all financial matters but left her in large amounts of debt despite having assets. That was fixed with outside help. She lost a portion of her assets in the recession, but she still can be considered “wealthy”. Ted kept their social calendar full with parties and travel so Liz is not adept at scheduling.

My parents have a winter home in a semi-remote tourist destination. They often have friends come and stay with them or in rentals nearby. Liz came down last winter with Sarah for one week and stayed an extra week with my parents in their house. This year, Liz rented an efficiency for two and a half months to escape the winter up north.

The problems began as soon as she arrived:

-She booked her flight three days before her rental started, so she stayed with my parents. My mom already had two friends down for the week who took the two bedrooms. Liz complained that she wasn't given back “her” bedroom, the one she stayed in last time. She then whined at length about how “poor” she was because of the recession to one of my mom's friends, who has always been in a rather low income bracket. That got my mom rather angry, but she did not confront Liz at the time.
-Liz is allegedly taking loads of medication (of unknown variety). Her doctor is apparently a prescription vending machine (or at least his PA is). She drinks alcohol excessively and sleeps at least 10 hours a day. She barely eats and is “skin and bones” according to my mother. She also shakes visibly in the morning.
-Liz often starts off on a non-sequitur, doesn't listen to what anyone else is saying, and is basically not able to hold her end of a conversation unless she is telling one of the few stories she relates repeatedly.
-Her reasoning is odd/non-functional. An example: my mom tried to get her into a local bridge game. The leader tried to call her, but her cell was off. When my mom asked about it, Liz said she didn't want to run out of batteries. My mother suggested she recharge her phone while she sleeps, to which Liz replied, “Oh, that's a good idea”.

In short, if you skipped all that, the woman is kind of crazy. She is depressed and self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. Now my mom, who is really not good at dealing with people in a sensitive manner, is stuck with this woman. Liz has only visited this area once, and has no friends other than my mom. My mom is really only barely friends with her in the first place. Their mutual friend, Sarah, is not retired and even if she had the time, I'm not sure she'd want to spend it babysitting Liz. My mother has a full schedule of friends visiting and social obligations. Even if my mom wanted to stage some kind of intervention (which she really is loathe to do), their remote location makes any kind of outside support (such as a psychiatrist) difficult to find.

My mom is an good person but really does not want to take Liz on as some kind of “project”. Liz doesn't have any children, I've never heard her speak of relatives and her only close friend I know of is Sarah.

Liz made the “adult” decision to come down to this remote location for ten weeks and did not ask my mom to be her entertainment. My mom is torn between her moral qualms about leaving Liz to her own devices and her desire to stay away from becoming Liz's only tether to the world. Before Ted died, he was basically Liz's full-time keeper.

What can my mother do, or not do, legally, ethically and morally? Any suggestions/opinions are welcome

Throwaway email for questions:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Can your mom sit Liz down and make a schedule for the remaining weeks of her vacation so that they get together perhaps twice a week (or more, or less, depending on what your mom wants)? Your mom can block off time for herself ahead of this meeting (no need to explain to Liz what she has planned), then discuss with Liz what she wants to do (that bridge game? another local club? a standing weekly dinner with your mom and dad?), and give Liz a copy of the schedule. I make this suggestion not because Liz deserves it or because your mom should feel obliged to take care of her, but because you say your mom is trying to be nice and also doesn't want to deal with a serious talk about Liz's issues. I think a set schedule would both keep Liz feeling secure (she wouldn't have to handle all her own social planning) and give your mom a change to say "Oh, rats! Can't hang out and talk about how poor you are tonight! I have plans. But I'll see you on Tuesday for bridge like we talked about, right?"
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:57 AM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Now my mom, who is really not good at dealing with people in a sensitive manner, is stuck with this woman.

No, she's not. This woman's problems are not your mother's responsibility. She should suggest counseling (especially grief counseling if she hasn't had that) and she should set boundaries (no coming over to my house if you're drunk, etc). She can express concern, but beyond that, if Liz is unwilling to get help, your mother is not responsible. Merely putting up with Liz is not going to help either one of them. If Sarah wants to get involved, that's her choice.
posted by desjardins at 8:16 AM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Your Mom can't fix this person. Your Mom can be a good friend, listen, suggest therapy and/or doctor visits. Your Mom should decide how much support she will provide, how dependent she will allow Liz to be, and enforce that boundary. If Liz is over-medicated and/or drinking, she might be having memory and cognitive impairment, and should visit her doctor. Your Mom knows the area, and can make a recommendation. Compassion doesn't require your Mom to take on someone's problem, rather, she can Help Liz grow and learn to manage her life.
posted by theora55 at 8:24 AM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Liz isn't your Mom's responsibility, but it would be a kindness to help her. It sounds as though your parents have money, social status, time and a spare house. I'm not suggesting your mom give up her entire life to amuse this person, but to offer a little kindness toward someone who's struggling.

A few things to try - call Sarah and ask for contacts, involve Liz in group activities so she can meet some other members of the community, if she's religious encourage her to attend the services of her denomination, encourage her to join a fitness group of some sort, schedule a regular lunch or brunch with Liz, encourage Liz to invites someone to visit her for a few days.

I can be a real "not my problem" person. However, I'm willing to allow that at some point each of us will need some extra care and help.
posted by 26.2 at 8:45 AM on January 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

I disagree that your mom has any sort of obligation toward Liz because of her better financial & social status. Liz isn't used to doing anything for herself and the more your mom helps, the more Liz will come to rely on her and become pissed when your mom pulls back (because clearly at some point, Liz's needs will overwhelm your poor mom).

It's best to set the stage now for very limited involvement on your mom's part. This is an emotional black hole waiting to happen. Boundaries and limited involvement, while not ideal and pleasant, are key here. There is not going to be any halfway with Liz because she's unfamiliar with independence.
posted by December at 9:15 AM on January 22, 2009

If you have more than a few friends some of them will be mentally ill. Contain her impact on others, get her into a place that is more comfortable and appropriate as soon as possible, nudge her outside of your boundaries, until then grin and bear it.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:47 AM on January 22, 2009

If your mom has already urged her to go therapy / pdoc, offered to take her to an appointment, and talked to her about her drinking problem, staged an intervention and she STILL refuses to get help for herself, your mom has already done way more than can be expected from a casual friend who is an ADULT.

She may not be mentally ill (I personally hate that term) but she definitely has some mental health issues or wonky brain chemistry.

Your mom should leave her (move out perhaps and let her stay for the agreed-upon duration?) but it sounds like there was no formal lease signed so she can also kick her out legally.

Some people have to bottom out before they seek help and until they do, they'll continue to drag their friends, family and everyone who tries to help down with them. Bottom line: it's an unbalanced, unhealthy relationship and as they say, she doesn't have to take it.
posted by HolyWood at 10:35 AM on January 22, 2009

Before Ted died, he was basically Liz's full-time keeper.


She's self-medicating with booze.

Maybe she's taking pills that she shouldn't. Maybe she has dementia. Who knows. All we know is that she she once had a person doing everything for her and that person, her beloved husband, is dead. She's doing the drinking and the the cell phone thing and the other nonsensical stuff because she's either stupid or scared (or has memory problems). Your mother is in no way obligated to be her entertainment director, and if she doesn't have to befriend this person, but she should make up her mind since the woman is in her home. Loving kindness never hurt anybody, especially to a person that just lost their entire support system and spouse.
posted by Fairchild at 10:42 AM on January 22, 2009

Does Liz have any family at all that can help her? Because honest-to-goodness, if a friend was behaving like that around me, I'd contact any son or daughter I could find.
posted by magstheaxe at 12:04 PM on January 22, 2009

This reminds me way too much of a situation I've been put in, where my MIL's dysfunctional/crazy/possibly alcoholic cousin moved to my & my husband's city after a divorce and foreclosure, and she began relying on me for EVERYTHING, constantly asking for favors, constantly calling me, etc etc etc.

This woman is in her early 60's, and, like Liz, really doesn't know how to take care of herself without "a man" to do everything for her and plan everything for her. What she did was see someone who was nice to her and willing to help her out, because her first few days in my city I did offer to show her around the area and lend her a few things before her movers came. So she latched on to me and began expecting really unreasonable favors and help, all the while never really giving back or expressing any interest in anything else but her own woes.

The conclusion I came to was that, yes, her situation sucks. Sure, it doesn't hurt to help someone out if they REALLY need it. But it was affecting my quality of life to constantly be "on call" for this crazy lady. It's not my responsibility to entertain, coddle, or take care of this woman, especially if she's not going to be respectful of my time. And honestly, it's not really helping her out. Eventually she's going to have to learn to hear the words "no" and do things on her own. If she can't figure it out, then that's sad, but she's an adult, and it's not your mom's problem to fix.

Your mom needs to be assertive. Why did she let Liz stay in her house when she had no room? It's not her fault Liz screwed up her reservation and made an incorrect assumption. Why couldn't she just say "No, I'm sorry, we've got a full house and we just can't accommodate you."?

And your mom needs to be ok with hurting Liz's feelings. Liz doesn't give a shit how she imposes on your mom, as right now Liz doesn't give a shit about anyone but herself. Your mom can be nice and agree to meet Liz for lunch a few times, but she needs to set boundaries that work for YOUR MOM and not for Liz, and stick to them. Give people like Liz an inch, they will take a mile.
posted by tastybrains at 12:06 PM on January 22, 2009

There are some markers here of frontotemporal dementia -- the narcissism, the repeating stories, the "odd reasoning" or surprise at common sense -- and it may well be that she's had it for some time but while her husband was around he consciously or not helped around or covered for her lapses. That's quite common.

My dad has frontotemporal and my uncle has a dementia that may be similar. They both went through periods of basically alcoholism and self-medicating. It wasn't as psychological as in a younger person (and neither had a history of dependence). Dementias like frontotemporal tend to create periods of apathy. My dad spends 16 hours a day awake but lying in bed. Taking away access to alcohol just means he does it sober.

Mortality after diagnosis is 2-10 years.

Anyway, compassion for that aside, your mother just has to set boundaries. She didn't budge on the room, which is good, but next time it's "oh, I'm so sorry we don't have space, you'll have to get a hotel." For socializing it's "we're going out with friends on Thursday, do you want to come?" and "so sorry, but we'll be out and about with our guests." Firm. She's probably a bit of a lost soul, even if she isn't really ill, but your mother is under no obligation.

I would make sure that she has help with her financial affairs. Frontotemporal sufferers often have trouble with "executive functions" like planning, and may not be aware, for example, that their tax situation is changing or an account is being spent down to zero. That son or daughter should know that this is something that is different from Alzheimer's and appears in earlier age groups (typically age 45-75). They may have been noticing odd stuff for a while, or maybe their dad's help concealed it from them too. But an earlier diagnosis is always better.

Tell them to buy LTC insurance first, though, before starting any course of diagnosis, if she doesn't have it already (wealthy? she may).
posted by dhartung at 4:07 PM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

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