Ailing Father, Neglectful Stepmother, & a Confused Daughter
June 16, 2012 7:04 PM   Subscribe

How do I address my father's illness, marital problems, and general malaise as a child who has long ago flown the coop and has no solid plans to return to her hometown?

It just so happens that we're on the cusp of Father's Day and so this may be somewhat topical, but it's also a concern/question that's been brewing in my mind for a long while now. Basically I live in a large city a few states over from my father, who lives in a rather sleepy town in a place I like to call Nowheresville and is currently contending with a number of chronic and likely life-threatening illnesses, including kidney failure, emphysema, and ongoing battles with pneumonia. He's also extremely underweight and is quite weak such that he barely goes out except to do grocery shopping..oh and also perform every single other errand that needs to be run! Which brings me to one of the issues at hand:

His wife offers him very little support. She suffers from some pains but otherwise is in pretty decent physical health and yet she refuses to drive, barely cleans the house, doesn't feed any of their shared pets, NEVER cooks (despite the fact that he desperately needs to put on weight), and also stays up all night on the computer and generally sleeps all day. Sufficed to say, she may not be in the healthiest mental state but meanwhile I am at a loss for what to do for them. I have my job and all my friends & connections in the city, and can't imagine uprooting myself & everything I know to go live in this dull place that's hours & hours away from that. And yet, I see my weakened father doing everything he can to please his wife while she seems to only pay him minimal attention. He's told me he feels lonely much of the time and has tried to talk her into spending more time with him, but it seems to no avail. I'd have to admit that he's not the most assertive type and my mother also had a knack for taking advantage of him on a regular basis, but all of it just makes me wonder what I should be doing in this situation. When I visit, I make it my business to spoil him and cook plenty of meals but it's certainly not enough. Also the only delivery food are pizza places and he doesn't seem to want meals-on-wheels so I don't know how to ensure he's eating enough.

Are there any suggestions for how to handle an ailing parent when you, their child, live quite far off and can't personally ensure they're being taken care of? Also, what if anything should I do to address their dysfunctional marriage? And if there aren't any concrete steps to be taken, what reassuring words should I tell my Dad at this point? He seems very down at this point on account of both his failing health and his marriage and I seem to be his main confidante. I'd like to help him face his mortality with strength and hope, but how is this done from afar?
posted by afabulousbeing to Human Relations (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Also, I might mention that I'm his only child and his family members, though closer than I, also live hours away.
posted by afabulousbeing at 7:09 PM on June 16, 2012

Are there any delivery grocery services available? You might at least be able to have frozen meals delivered out there.... if not groceries, maybe bulk healthy snack bars, etc. from Amazon, etc.

I'd say stay right out of the marriage, other than lending him an ear.
posted by bq at 7:18 PM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

You can't do anything about his marriage - nor is it your place to intervene there. What you might be able to do to help with the rest of the situation is to contribute towards paying someone to come in and help around the house, with cleaning, cooking, and shopping. Maybe you can find someone via some local social services who would check in occasionally. You can also offer to do things that you can from a distance - if he has problems that need sorting out over the phone - eg relating to bills or taxes or whatever, you could offer to do that for him.
posted by lollusc at 7:20 PM on June 16, 2012 [5 favorites]

Perhaps a home health attendant? Medicare will provide one, who can cook/clean/keep company/etc. Do you think he'd be less resistant to the Meals-on-Wheels idea if his doctor "prescribed" it for him?
posted by Iris Gambol at 7:31 PM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

You can make a report to Adult Protective Services in your father's area regarding suspected self-neglect. (It sounds like there may be issues of malnourishment, isolation and possibly lack of necessary medical services - and probably more.) They will investigate and start a process of trying to connect your father with the necessary services. It may be a relief to your father to have an "expert" come in and tell him what he needs to do. (Or he may be ticked off but APS will be used to that.) I believe the report can be made anonymously so your father won't be told that you were the one who called.
posted by metahawk at 7:59 PM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had a great uncle in a similar situation (if you swap the wife for awful kids), and what worked for me was sending regular care packages of foodstuffs that I knew only he would enjoy. Toward the end I used amazon prime which was so much easier, but he did prefer the packages sent from home with notes and other things he might need around the house.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 8:14 PM on June 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

Are Schwans or Peapod options? Seconding Amazon Prime -- share an account with him, so that he can order whatever he needs and have it delivered to the house.
posted by spunweb at 9:34 PM on June 16, 2012

I'm no Dr., but I'd say Mom is seriously in denial. I don't know if you just come out and tell her to saddle up (I don't know if I could), but at the very least they should maybe have a maid and ideally a home care person. They need help. Dipping your toe into the water would be to start contacting a Social Worker in their area and start telling the story and asking questions.
posted by rhizome at 10:57 PM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Having their house cleaned regularly might indirectly (or directly!) help their dysfunctional marriage.

I don't know how old you are, but I am 42, married, with a 14 month old. My back is very bad (injury at 36, never quite healed) and I'm desperate without a cleaning service. Formerly, I was totally on the the ball! I can imagine how hard it is as one ages, and the aches and pains are even more severe than I suffer now. Everything snowballs after that. You. Just. Shut. Down.

Everyone in my house (and most houses, I surmise) are happier when things are taken care of and clean.

Hope this helps.
posted by jbenben at 11:59 PM on June 16, 2012 [5 favorites]

Investigate what practical support might be available in your parents' town and arrange things that help them out. That could be grocery deliveries, cooked food deliveries, cleaning, gardening, help with the pets or even medical care. Speak to you father about what support he wishes he had at the moment, too. These kind of things cost money - offer to pay for some of it if at all possible - and you should try to prioritise whatever would give him the most relief. Anything like that makes sure that they have the essentials at home, that their home is habitable and also that people are regularly stopping by keeping an eye on things albeit informally.

The other thing to do is to regularly speak to your father - if he says he feels lonely and your mother can't/won't deal and support him it would undoubtedly cheer him up if you stay in touch regularly. That doesn't have to be long phone calls - just send him regular emails, or cards or little messages or inexpensive gifts to let him know you love him and are thinking about him.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:35 AM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

If there aren't food & grocery delivery businesses in your dad's town, try to find a neighbour that you can hire to provide some of these supports. Think stay at home mom, or unemployed high school friend... This person could run some of those errands and provide some additional socializing. You might also talk to local religious organizations. Even if you & he aren't members, a minister might know someone who could use a little side job.

If your dad won't give his doctor permission to talk to you, you can write a letter to the doctor to express your concerns and describe your observations. When I had pneumonia this winter, my doctor was pretty adamant that I needed to stop everything to get better. Home Care & Meals on Wheels might be necessary to get your dad & his wife healthy again.

Definitely keep calling, and visit when you can.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 6:24 AM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

for various reasons, for the next couple of months I'm officially on a 'freezer' diet. I only eat food that falls into three categories: 1)food that doesn't need preparation or refrigeration, like cereal and cereal bars, 2) food from the freezer, and 3) i buy one big bag of fruit and eat that.

It's not ideal, but honestly it's pretty terrific- I always have food around that is reasonably healthy and tasty. i don't cook. I get the food from trader joe's as I feel their frozen food is reasonably healthy and tasty.

normally i'm obsessed with cooking and fresh food but currently my situation doesn't allow for these things, and after going crazy for a few weeks this is what I came up with.

So my point is that you can stock his freezer and pantry for him and he'll be fine for several weeks. If you really wanted to you could get him one of those huge freezers so he'll have extra frozen storage space.
posted by saraindc at 7:47 AM on June 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

« Older Is it possible to commission an artist?   |   The Dog Who Screambarfs At Strangers Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.