Erasing myself from the narrative
September 21, 2016 8:26 AM   Subscribe

I need a divorce from what's left of my family. I just can't figure out how to do it. The ending is the part I always thought would be easiest, but it turns out to be worse than the waiting part was.

So, a few years ago I posted a question about what to do about my brothers when my father eventually passed away.

TL;DR - My brothers have never really been my brothers, not as far back as I can remember - they've been examples of what not to be, and that's the extent of our relationship. My entire life, they've been unemployed practicing alcoholics who have saddened, angered, cheated, terrified and thieved from my parents and others without ever giving anything back. My older brother at least used to be a warm and gentle person -- but since his stroke 15 years ago or so, he's been extremely volatile, verbally abusive to everyone around him, and extremely paranoid.

My father died in April, intestate. I've been dealing with the emotional, financial and logistical fallout ever since. I handled the funeral costs, adopted my father's dog, and did what I could financially to give my brothers some time to figure things out. They should have been able to last longer than this with what they had. But they squandered it, and now their time and money has almost run out. I don't have anything left to give them; I'm in debt now myself, thanks to the trip home when my dad got sick and later, the cross-country transport of the pup.

I want to disentangle myself from my brothers permanently, but I don't know how to do it. I can change my name and my phone number, but I can't change my address, and they know it because they had to mail me things when my dad was still alive - he couldn't get to the mailbox/post office himself. I live all the way across the country, but it's not inconceivable that my middle brother could find a way to get here, and I find that thought scary on many, many levels.

My brothers have never been connected to me on social media, or even aware of me having a social media presence. So I think I'm safe enough there. I've always used pseudonyms and nicknames online, not my real name. I'm sure a PI could find me in about five minutes, but I don't think my brothers are tech savvy enough to do so (and can't afford a PI anyway!) I would need to change/delete a couple of my email addresses, but I'm okay with that.

I guess my questions are: Is this even a thing it's possible to do? Will any of it make any difference, if I can't change my address? What else do I need to do to successfully vanish from their lives? Do I need to do anything legally to relinquish any claim on my dad's house and whatnot, so I am at least not blocking them if they manage to sell it? Do I say anything to them before I vanish? A goodbye, anything?

And if I can manage to vanish, how do I handle the guilt of having done it? I've always had a bit of an empathy problem, and find it way too easy to imagine them feeling helpless and scared and alone. I feel sick just thinking about it, and I'm already feeling sick about all the things I never managed to do to make my father's life any easier.

I won't threadsit (much) but can answer questions if I've left anything vital out.
posted by kythuen to Human Relations (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Is it a possibility to simply notify them by mail that you don't want them to contact you ever again, for any reason?
posted by Dolley at 8:38 AM on September 21, 2016

You may be able to get a restraining order against your middle brother, and of course notify him of that once you've got it. That won't prevent him from bothering you, but it will attach legal consequences to it.

You might also want to find a lawyer who could act as your intermediary to handle any remaining estate business with your family members, and direct them to contact the lawyer.
posted by adamrice at 8:43 AM on September 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Lie. Send them a neutrally worded announcement you are moving and give them a p.o. address in some plausible but distant town from where you now live. Do not ever respond to any communication you do happen to receive at your actual address (physical, email, or otherwise) afterwards.
posted by cocoagirl at 8:43 AM on September 21, 2016 [34 favorites]

Lie. Tell them you're moving and you'll send them the permanent address shortly, and then don't. Return any mail from them with "return to sender, addressee unknown" stamped on it. Or not even that.

As for the guilt...Well, you cannot fix their helplessness. You cannot fix their sadness. Remember this, from your previous question? I have no relationship with them, and haven't ever had one with them since I was a child. Remember that.
posted by rtha at 8:58 AM on September 21, 2016 [17 favorites]

If they're as feckless as you say, then they may abandon your father's house (and other property) instead of selling it. If you're the only responsible one, then you ought to take steps to secure your father's estate, even if it delays your disappearing act.
posted by JimN2TAW at 8:59 AM on September 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

And if I can manage to vanish, how do I handle the guilt of having done it?

To beat the usual drum here, have you sought out a therapist with experience helping people cut off family members? Having a professional to talk to that can help reassure you that you're doing what's healthy and needed for you might help.

Regarding the house question, that will likely depend on the laws of the state where your father's house was and how the estate was settled. You may just need to file a quitclaim, you might need to do something more. You are likely to want to get it taken care of in case your brothers don't sell it and you end up listed as owing the taxes on it.
posted by Candleman at 9:10 AM on September 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

In regards to your disabled brother, if anyone ever contacts you about him (from a nursing home, hospital, or state services) you can simply say "My father was his primary caregiver. I don't have a relationship with him, nor is there any agreement for me to assume responsibility for him upon my dad's death. I'm sorry but that (whatever THAT is they are asking for) simply won't be possible." When there is no other family member to step up and take responsibility for him, he will wind up in a nursing home and that's that. I'd be wary of giving any information about him to whomever calls, other than the fact you know he lived with your father. Talking about him in any way that you seem to be knowledgeable about his issues (I guess you can know what his diagnosis is) will establish that you have some sort of relationship with him and a pushy social worker/social services worker will work that angle to get you to take charge of his care. I've seen it happen.
posted by MultiFaceted at 9:49 AM on September 21, 2016 [11 favorites]

What would happen if you simply....stopped calling them? And stopped answering their calls? These people seem pretty self-involved so it seems a possibility that if you let the relationship wither on the vine they won't even notice your absence. Are they making any demands on you or your time or energy right now?
posted by bq at 9:52 AM on September 21, 2016 [4 favorites]

This really, really sucks and I'm sorry.

In some potential stalking situations (that are not this one), I would recommend the above-mentioned firmly worded letter or just ignoring them.

In this situation I think people are really, really underestimating the danger factor- your younger brother sounds really dangerous (especially when high and/or drunk) and you are a woman living alone. I think you absolutely need to treat him as a real potential threat. (Not to scare you, but I think you are wise.)

For your own safety and peace of mind you need to keep track of them and their correspondence and save all of it. You also need someone on your side- I highly recommend a lawyer, even if you think you can't afford one. A lawyer has authority that many people will respect even when they will not respect your personal autonomy.

So, I would:

1. Get a lawyer and have the lawyer talk to them about the house. Sell the house, be done with that, and ONLY talk to them through your lawyer from now on. In fact, encourage them to talk to the lawyer- let them send him/her letters begging for money in excess. Save all of it.

2. Avoid sending any strongly worded letter like "never talk to me again"- in this case, I think it is highly likely to preemptively piss them off more. Instead, do a relatively fast slow legal fade on them and then just disappear except for your lawyer. You have a great excuse to get a lawyer right now that you will not have later. (I mean, they won't respect your wishes not to contact you anyway, so the strongly worded letter is not going to do much good except as proof after they've done something and the police need proof they broke in or whatever. Not ideal.)

3. Install a really good home security system. Does that dog you adopted bark?

4. I really like the idea people have of telling them you're moving and giving them a new address. Or getting a P.O. box and returning mail they send to your house unopened. Or just use your lawyer's contact info while you're "moving." And then later give them a P.O. box somewhere out of state.

5. Notify your work NOT TO GIVE OUT YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION. DO NOT EVEN LET THEM TELL PEOPLE THAT YOU WORK THERE. (Yeah this is illegal but depending on the formality of your company can easily be ignored.) Delete or hide Linked In profiles, website presence, etc.

Honestly, I really think that long-term, you need to move. I read your prior question and it sounds like you really like your job- but you can probably move into a new house/apartment in the area?

Good luck, I'm really rooting for you. This is a hard road. I'm sorry.
posted by stockpuppet at 9:58 AM on September 21, 2016 [17 favorites]

with "return to sender, addressee unknown"

I don't believe the post office will honor this when you still live there and receive mail.

Get a virtual address. Notify them this is your new address. If they need to mail you something, they can. If they want to show up on your doorstep and go to the virtual address, they won't find you.

If this concerns you so much, consider actually moving. If you actually move, get a virtual address and give them your virtual address.

Start a journal to work on the guilt. If you do not actually move, in your journal (or with your therapist), work out how you will handle it if your brother does show up on your doorstep. Work out the logistics. Have the address of a local homeless shelter ready. Do not let him in the front door at all. Know exactly how you will handle this. If you do not, you may find yourself with a permanent houseguest and this coupd set the precedent that you are responsible for him.

I would not recuse myself from the proceeds of the house. If they sell it and you get a cut, it would help cover the debts you have racked up. It doesn't sound like it would save them. If all they do is piss money away and leach off of people, your compassion is just enabling this shit.
posted by Michele in California at 10:38 AM on September 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

with "return to sender, addressee unknown"

I don't believe the post office will honor this when you still live there and receive mail.

You can do this, by writing "return to sender, addressee unknown" on the envelope and then dropping it in a post office box, or at the post office itself.

If you write it on a piece of mail and then leave it on your mailbox at home for the letter carrier to pick up, the letter carrier will stop delivering the rest of your (valid) mail.
posted by vignettist at 12:05 PM on September 21, 2016

I like the idea mentioned above of saying "I'm moving, I'll forward a permanent address soon" and then "forgetting" to do so, OR the idea of saying "in the meantime you can forward any mail to my attorney's office".

Of course, this depends a) on whether or not you will retain an attorney and b) whether or not the attorney will contact you (and therefore bill you) any time a piece of mail shows up.
posted by vignettist at 12:09 PM on September 21, 2016

Do your brothers know your dad's dog? If you don't move and your brother shows up and sees the dog in the back yard, well, the jig is pretty much up. Plus, the dog may not protect you from someone it has a previously established friendly relationship with. You might consider adopting the dog out to another family.
posted by vignettist at 12:12 PM on September 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

You can do this, by writing "return to sender, addressee unknown" on the envelope and then dropping it in a post office box, or at the post office itself.

If you write it on a piece of mail and then leave it on your mailbox at home for the letter carrier to pick up, the letter carrier will stop delivering the rest of your (valid) mail.

When I tried to do that, the mail came right back to my mailbox. This is where I get the idea that the Post Office might not honor the request to return to sender.

posted by Michele in California at 3:32 PM on September 21, 2016

I recommend that you look at the All in the Family group on Please don't be deterred by this forum being part of a pregnancy/baby website and the irritating user interface; if you can get past this, you'll find that anyone is welcome and AITF is one of the best places around for dealing with difficult and/or abusive family members and complicated, multi-generational family issues. The members there have a lot of collective experience with what you are living with. You sound like you could really use some emotional support in addition to the practical aspects. You might benefit from reading the stories there and maybe even from posting.

About the mail: you can 'return to sender' any mail that you choose to.
posted by medusa at 3:33 PM on September 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

I like the idea mentioned above of saying "I'm moving, I'll forward a permanent address soon" and then "forgetting" to do so, OR the idea of saying "in the meantime you can forward any mail to my attorney's office".

OR, "I'm moving, I'll forward a permanent address later, here is a post office box (or you can now use the street address of the post office).

Any mail you receive at your home can be read or discarded.
posted by H21 at 4:42 PM on September 21, 2016

What I did was just stop responding to attempts at communication, but my brother (pretty similar characteristics to yr brother) is very unlikely to ever actually come to my home, being in another state and extremely self-absorbed. The most he does is put me down and fume to my mom about it. So I don't have as many ideas about that piece, but I do know about the guilt. I have cut off two family members and one person who had been like a sister to me, and I felt terrible all 3 times. The thing I clung to, and still do sometimes, is that I can't change or save other people, and at the point that their actions or responses to me are only hurting me, it's okay to bow out for my own emotional health. I can't be present in my life if my energy is being sucked away by the constant worry and sick feeling that comes along with letting those people in. And I love my life, I've worked very hard to take care of myself and be healthy. For me, I can't jeopardize my peace for other people.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 7:14 PM on September 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

Set yourself up as broke, in debt, in crisis. Ask them for loans, whine about your hardships. Then lie and ghost them out of your life. If they believe you are broke, they're less likely to come looking for you.
posted by theora55 at 8:07 AM on September 22, 2016 [6 favorites]

A little baffled as to why everyone here is suggesting that you come up with a system of elaborate lies that may or may not cause more inconvenience and aggravation.

Why lie? Just repeat Ann Landers' excellent line: "that won't be possible." Say, I already gave you x amount of money from the estate, and it's not my problem that you blew it sooner than I would have thought. Our father chose to give you money, but I am not choosing that. (And, I can't, because I don't have it.)

You'd be amazed at how fast people will stop pestering you for money when they realize that you aren't actually going to give them money. Though yeah, you'll probably get a nasty toddler-like extinction burst, and have to cope with a lot of guilt, and the suggestions for support groups above are good. If you're genuinely afraid they may come visit you, a restraining order will show them that you mean business (see you aren't actually going to give them money, above). The support groups can help with this.

Best of luck; this sucks so bad, hugs from me.
posted by Melismata at 1:48 PM on September 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Thank you, everyone - this has given me a lot to think about. I've given therapy a try twice, and struck out twice; maybe third time could be the charm.

The dog isn't going to be much of a watch dog. She was my dad's first, but my brothers lived with my dad, and she was as much theirs as his. She adores my brothers. She barks like crazy at strangers, but not at people she knows. If I were really lucky she might bark out of excitement at seeing him again, but it's unlikely.

(We toy occasionally with the idea of rehoming her, but only because we weren't prepared for how much work she would add to our lives -- while one of us has mobility problems and the other is recovering from cancer. Probably we won't. We don't want to, but then sometimes late at night when we're too tired to even sleep, the subject comes up.)

I like the idea of telling him I'm going to move and giving him a new address/PO Box. I'm not really worried too much about returning any mail he sends me because a) he doesn't send me any and b) he doesn't know enough about how the post office works to even wonder if mail doesn't get returned to sender.

I've also considered telling him I've been laid off; that would eliminate one of the three major reasons he reaches out to me (which he does a lot): I'm the only person he knows personally who is financially stable, I essentially have his dog now, and I'm also the only person he knows personally who knows how to adult. If I don't have money, it's possible he would reach out a lot less.

Half the time I think I'm nuts to be actually scared that he might come here. The other half I feel guilty for not doing more for him and my oldest brother. That's something that would be great to work out in therapy if I could find someone to work with...
posted by kythuen at 5:46 PM on September 22, 2016

If you do have contact with him, you could commiserate/poor mouth:

Talk about the cancer, the debts, the mobility problems, etc. It is entirely possible he will make himself scarce out of fear you will want money or other support from him.
posted by Michele in California at 5:54 PM on September 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

My official suggestion is to start telling them you're broke and then fade out on them.

But I noticed that in your last question you said you'd even consider faking your own death? That's still an option!

What would it take, someone in cahoots to call them and deliver the news? Would you even have to hold a fake funeral (after you were "cremated," of course), or would they not even come? You could leave the burden on them to call for information about when the service will be held, and only hold a fake service if necessary. I'm not sure what kind of costs you'd run into for a small service of just your very closest family and friends.

Would they show up and want to go through your property? That's the clearest possible pitfall to me, if they know you have "the old photo album" and would go to lengths to get it from whoever is managing your affairs. Other than that, you could even have a lawyer send them both a couple hundred bucks "from your will," if you wanted to.

The other pitfall is if they fail to attend but call your contact a year later saying they want to visit your grave. But either that person could have changed their number (having called from a burner line originally), or they could say that you'd asked for your ashes to be strewn across the ocean.

To me, this option would help immensely with the guilt. Having fake died, of course you can't help them. You've been reborn your own new person.
posted by salvia at 11:27 PM on September 22, 2016

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