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Hi there everyone. I am in need of some advice. My grandmother is in her mid-seventies, fairly active and lives at home. She has a myriad of health issues, the main ones being a faulty heart which she had open heart surgery for a few years back to replace a valve, blood pressure issues, recurring diverticulitis, and cataracts.


Although she doesn't need "care" so to speak, she is becoming increasingly hostile and senile as time goes on, making it impossible to help her. The kind of care she needs at this point is upkeep around the house (she has a small ranch with just under an acre of property). My mother deals with the brunt of this as she lives next door to her. She tells everyone she "receives no help", but denies help when it is offered to her. For example, if she needs her lawn mowed, she expects it to be done on the same day every week. My mother and father both work full time and even though they faithfully mowed her lawn once a week, she decided to hire a company to come mow her lawn because it wasn't the same day every week. That turns into others asking "Well why did you have to hire someone if your daughter lives next door?" She then will throw my parents under the bus to illicit sympathy from others. But when WE ask her why she hired someone, she will say, "Oh, you have enough on your plate. Don't worry about me." Another example is my mother will offer to take time off from work to bring her to a doctor's appointment (she is right on the border of whether or not she should still be driving due to cataracts which, might I mention, she refuses to get surgery for). She will say, "No thanks, I don't need a ride." and then turn around and complain that nobody offers to go with her to appointments. Other times she will take on physically laborious tasks that don't need to be done. For example, she has a gravel driveway. She will go outside on a 90 degree day and decide, "Well, I guess now is a good time to rake the driveway." She will work until she is drenched in sweat, ready to pass out, and then say nobody will help her. She won't even wait until it cools off, or maybe think to herself, "Gee, maybe the driveway doesn't really need to be raked, especially at the price of my physical health." It's almost like she does all of these things for attention and she thinks everyone is out to get her.


She recently lost my grandfather after being married for 50 years. She also has a special needs, albeit high functioning son, who still lives with her (he is in his mid fifties). When my grandfather passed away, some legal action was taken to ensure that, should something happen to her, she wouldn't lose the house. The house is in my mother's name, however my grandmother has life use of it. She is still required to pay taxes and pay to upkeep the house. She is on a fixed income and refuses to take money out of the 401K to fix the house, so now my mother is starting to feel financially obligated to do it out of pocket (my grandmother isn't well off, but certainly has access to enough funds to be able to take care of what needs to be done). I've told my mother this is unacceptable. She shouldn't drain her savings because my grandmother is being unreasonable.


As much as we have tried to help her, she is, as some say, "happy in misery". She refuses to go to any support groups, she refuses to see a therapist, and her emotional abuse and manipulation is really starting to take a toll on all of us, especially my mother. We have tried sitting her down and talking to her about things, but she claims she has no idea what we are talking about, gets upset, and then the conversation can't continue because of her heart ailment. We are all at a breaking point. Let me backtrack and say that, prior to the last 6 or 7 years, our relationships were all healthy with your average dose of family turmoil, so there's no "bad blood" or backstory that would incite this kind of behavior on her end.


I know the obvious - she's scared of aging, she's scared for what the future holds for my special needs uncle, she's scared to leave the home she built with her own two hands, she's scared to navigate the world alone without her husband of 50 years by her side. I know there is a desperate need for her to have control, which makes even the smallest things in life that shouldn't matter into a big deal, like the lawn mowing example above. Her having control over a few simple things gives her the allusion that everything is okay, and she's still "with it". We have tried to love her and be there for her, to no avail.


I love her dearly. I idolized her growing up. But at what point is enough enough? She obviously needs the support, but where do you draw the line? When are you no longer obligated to try to help a toxic, emotionally abusive family member who insists on remaining a permanent victim? How do we navigate this situation? We need advice :(

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Such a shame. She is pushing her family away when she really will be needing them. Have a friend,69, whho has been this way most of her life. Knew she was losing her house but waited until the 12th hour to find a new place. Lost a lot of her belongings because was not out by the time the Sheriff put locks on the door. She is estranged from her sons, her fault. Now, she has Parkinsons and with other health problem will need more care eventually. Asked her what were her plans, stay where she is which is an apartment that is not disability accessible. Then to eventually be put somewhere by the son who has POA. Then like always, she will complain.
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I agree with the whole lovingly detach thing. I just don't feel it's fair to us, and just because she is becoming elderly, has been through a lot and needs help doesn't give her a free pass to treat the people who are willing to help her like absolute garbage. I just hope that my mom will follow suit, although it would be difficult with them being neighbors.
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I’m always amazed when I read here that an elderly loved one has become nasty and abusive and that their families tolerate it. I was guilty of this as well. My mother was the mistress of the snarky remark. She was a “sniper”. She would sarcastically make a nasty remark and then sit back and watch the reaction. When my dad passed, she made so many derogatory remarks about him my husband and kids finally told me to tell her to knock it off because they adored my dad. I had to reign her in many times by telling her that her comments weren’t appreciated.

Don't kid yourself. She knows exactly what she’s doing and saying. Claiming ignorance is a way of dodging responsibility. She doesn’t want to be confronted. Her behavior (or misbehavior) is something that has to be dealt with as it occurs. When she makes an insulting remark to someone, that person needs to stop, look her in the eye and say, “That’s not a nice thing to say, Grandma.”

You know she needs help, but try backing off s bit. Don’t be so available all the time. If she wants to hire someone to cut the grass, let her. But whatever she needs or wants to buy comes out of her own money, no one else’s. You can’t buy approval. This is drastic, but would Mom consider moving? It would incense Grandma, but might save Mom’s health and sanity.

Since she knows it all, let Grandma flounder on her own for a while. Be there if there’s an emergency, but not for every little thing.
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craetay Oct 8, 2018
Thank you for this Ahmijoy. I feel like you're calling out what we have all been too scared to admit. Tough love is the best love. I am actively trying to convince my mother to move but that's easier said than done. There is also the fact that her special needs brother lives with my grandmother, so the situation is just so complicated! I'm thinking of penning a letter to her calling her out on her behavior and telling her that things are going to be different moving forward... if she doesn't like that, then I'm just going to lovingly bow out of the situation entirely.
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If this is totally out of character then I agree her doctor needs to know, but step outside the box for a minute and examine what you know about your grandmother without the filter of your loving childhood memories - was she always a little like this, perhaps tempered by the guidance of her husband?
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craetay Oct 8, 2018
She's always had a tinge of these traits, but they are getting worse with age. A few years ago, she successfully convinced ME that my parents didn't really help out and my mom then proved otherwise... that's when I took a step back and recognized all the red flags over the years, even from my childhood. She just has a habit of making it all about her. Another example - she had known about a leaky valve in her heart for a decade. Doctors wanted to do surgery, but she kept putting it off. Fast forward to when my grandfather got diagnosed with cancer, all of a sudden she "needed" to get the surgery done. We were all flabbergasted - it was like all of a sudden since things were focusing on someone else, she needed to have the open heart surgery ASAP. I'm just so afraid that if I call her on this behavior she will deny it and round and round we go!!!
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You're probably right. Some of it does sound like a control issue for your grandmother, i.e. being afraid of things that she can't control, like getting older, having lost her husband, not being able to remember things as well, etc. She sounds rather manipulative too.

Your advice to your mom about not draining her savings was good. She should not be spending her money just because her mom doesn't want to use her own savings.

Really about the only thing you can do in this situation is to set boundaries and lovingly detach, while encouraging your mom to do the same. Decide what days/times, if any, you want to be there to help your grandmother, how often, etc. and stick to it, be it a few times a week, once a week, once a month, etc. Some people go no contact if the abuse gets to be extreme. I have with some of my family, including my grandmother. I really think mine is a narcissist, and she is just downright mean and cruel, to both me and my mom. Am still there for my mom, but have had to set limits there too, as mom would have me running every day if she could.

I know it's not easy. But you do need those boundaries for your own sanity. It sounds too like your grandmother could have some dementia going on, which can cause personality changes. Perhaps your mom could call her doctor ahead of her next appointment (or make her one) and explain that she may need to be evaluated for dementia. That way she doesn't have to say it in front of your grandmother, which would probably just upset her.
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