Background: I'm 24 years old and my younger sister is 11. My mom is 59 (she had my sister at 48... very unusual I know!). She suffers from Frontotemporal Dementia, diagnosis 3.5 years ago. She has been in full-time care for the past year and a half. My sister lives with our dad, I live further away but visit a lot and we are all very close.

The situation: The three of us are obviously heartbroken over losing our mother/wife to this disease. Discussing our feelings about mom usually dominates the conversation when we're together. My dad goes to see her about 3 times per week, in between going to work and raising my sister. I join him when I can. We're working together to try and process everything that has happened and it's very much still a work in progress.

My dad has started seeing somebody new, she is amazing and I love to see how happy she makes him. She knows the whole situation and is very understanding and supportive. She plays a bigger role in my sister's life than she does mine, obviously because she's still a child. I think it's a good thing, my sister gets to experience a bit of normality after all the drama of the last few years. For example, she can have friends over again without worrying about my mom walking around naked or soiling herself. That is not stuff any 11 year old should be dealing with.

The problem is that old friends of my mom found out about my dad's relationship and have behaved atrociously ever since, accusing my dad of "replacing" my mom, saying aggressive things to him like "[sister's name] only has ONE MOTHER and that's [mother's name]!!!". They've also made comments about her care and have insinuated that my dad isn't doing enough for her. I feel that they have built up a narrative in their heads, where my dad doesn't care about my mom anymore because he's with someone new. He was her primary caregiver while she was still at home, and in my opinion he deserves to relax and be happy now. These friends of my mom clearly don't agree. What do they want from us? To be miserable forever? Aren't we allowed to grieve our mother and also try to get back to normality?

This has been going on since Christmas, so almost a year now. It's on my mind again because when we were in with my mom yesterday, a nurse stopped us to tell us that "two friends" came by asking questions about shoe size and clothes sizes etc because my mom "needs new clothes". This might seem like a kind gesture, but I know that coming from them it's not. It's them wanting to feel like they're coming to her rescue.

I'd also like to point out that these people are doing a lot more "helping out" now than when we were minding our mom at home for the first few years after diagnosis. They have no idea how awful it is trying to care for someone at home. They have no idea how finally getting someone into full-time care is the best and worst day of your life at the same time. The past few years have been a very emotional time for us all, it continues to be emotional and these people are being extremely judgemental and unhelpful during this difficult time. I'm nervous to talk to them about it as I barely know them, and I have a habit of breaking down when talking about my mom. Any advice?

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A big part of this problem concerns your mother's friends perceptions of loyalty. They have such a strong reaction to your father's apparent disloyalty they are not able to take a step back and really look at what the situation truly is.

Marriage vows are "to death do us part". Legally and historically death has been physical. I have observed marriages survive decades long physical incapacitation and even some mental declines. In my young adulthood I knew two couples in the extended family where the husband recovered from a combat brain injury and had some problems for the remainder of his life, yet continued to function (including in family life) with help from his wife and extended family. I watched my own mother remain devoted to my father while his vascular dementia turned him into an aggressive and abusive s.o.b.; I had a hard time recognizing as the man who raised me. In my own mind, my father "died" when his brain and/or mental function no longer allowed him care about anyone else or how his words or blows wounded. I'm guessing that in your mind, a large part of your mother has also died. She just isn't the person you knew in childhood. We still love the pre-illness person and their personality, we still love the rimlets of that personality which continues on in the failing physical body. But we have already accepted a type of death and started mourning the person we knew even as the body still lives.

So now we come to a new reality. What is relationship loyalty when the physical destruction of the brain renders someone unable to continue functioning in a relationship, not just with their spouse but also with their children? Are we allowed to "replace" or fill that hole in our heart while the original owner still physically lives? There are no historical precedents and our churches are sure not addressing this dilemma either. (Although historically, "mental" incapacity is one church accepted justification for divorce.) My personal belief is I saw my parents' marriage effectively end when my father became unable to treat my mother with _any_ care or consideration; that's certainly the time frame when my close relationship with my father came to a complete end. Mom and I would continue to care about him and after his placement in MC we remained involved in his care and welfare. But the two way love and communication that defines a relationship was gone even as the physical body continued breathing. People who have not experienced this journey personally will have very little insight into how painful it is to love the breathing shell of what we remember our LO being.

In my mind, as long as your father's actions toward your mother remain same, then he is being loyal to her. As long as he sees to her care, visits her to confirm the level of care, visits enough that she does not feel abandoned, and treats her loving during those visits, then I believe your father is being loyal to the relationship (diminished by your mother's illness) that remains. Your mother's life now exists within the world of her LTC facility and within that world, your mother has a husband. Unless her friends tell her differently, she doesn't know about any other relationships within her family and isn't injured by them.

If your father has found a woman who is willing to accept his wife will always have first call on his loyalty and still offer companionship to both your father and his daughters, then I would not criticize. I admit to being religious and perhaps old fashioned enough to prefer your father's companion retain her own home during your mother's lifetime. I also think that would be a good protection for your young sister if the relationship doesn't last. But it is not any more disloyal to allow someone else to fill the holes your mother's illness has left than it would if your mother had physically died. Life goes on and there is never too much love in it.
Helpful Answer (21)

I don't think you are going to change their minds.

And I don't think you should stress out over their behavior. You can laugh when they say judge-y things and tell them that your father has your complete and loving support.
Helpful Answer (17)

I just want to say what a great daughter. Usually, children don't even want parents to have new relationships after a death of one of them. You are a very mature 24 yr old. You recognize that there is more to people. The understand that the Dementia ur Mom has is one of the worst. It effects the emotional part of the brain.

Your parents are so young to have something like this. Your sister really does need a woman in her life right now. There are things a father just doesn't understand or can't explain. I think as long as this woman doesn't move in and the relationship is kept on the "downlow" its OK. Even though Mom is no longer the woman Dad married, he does have a responsibility to her. So she should come first.
Helpful Answer (16)

You know what the truth is. You know what's going on in your family and these women are not a part of your family. You are under no obligation to make them understand anything. Right now they're on the outside looking in. If you approach them with the intention of trying to get them to understand their place in your mom's life increases. You'll be bringing them into what's going on in your family. I hope you don't do that because you're not going to change them or their behavior and seeking them out to try to explain things is almost like asking for their blessing. You don't owe them anything.
Helpful Answer (15)

If you feel the need to offer an explanation I think you might try writing it down and practising - I would keep it brief, just how hard it has been to lose your mother and that you are all okay with the idea of allowing someone new to join the family. Unfortunately I think that you are just going to have to harden your heart against these friends of your mother's and cut them out of your lives, nothing you say to them is likely to change their feelings until they've had the opportunity to walk those proverbial miles in your shoes.
Helpful Answer (13)

How do you stop people being ignorant, prejudiced and destructively partisan? No idea.

How does your father respond to the deeply unhelpful interjections you've described?

Does the hostility impact on the lady who is doing her best to support him and your little sister?

Getting new clothes and shoes for your mother IS a nice thing for them to do. Don't let your feelings about their less helpful contributions stop you acknowledging on your mother's - and your father's - behalf what is a useful, meaningful task undertaken; plus they're taking the trouble to get the right size, which is not nothing when you look at some of the peculiar things people in residential care are given to wear. Their motives - though I'm sure you're right that being snotty about your father is one of them, and not the least enjoyable either - matter less than that somebody has cared to get your mother some morale-boosting new clothes. Your mother will like it. That's good enough.

I don't think you should set out to talk to these people. If you encounter them and they say something ignorant, unkind, harsh, or even just mistaken, correct it but within bounds. You cannot hope to change closed minds, and a confrontation will simply make their attitudes more entrenched than ever. You'll just find yourself on their hit list and that's hardly going to make your father feel better.

Instead, stress that your father's ability to continue caring for his wife is greatly strengthened by the support he gets from his new relationship; and that after the turmoil and fear of the last few years a stable home structure is essential to your sister's wellbeing and sense of security. Why, do they have better ideas of how to achieve those important things?

It may be impossible for you to look at these people advocating a continuation of care at home for your mother without thinking "and where were you?" but don't even bother to voice it. "If we had done more to help at the time perhaps our friend wouldn't have had to move just yet" is about the last idea that will enter their heads.
Helpful Answer (13)
AlvaDeer Oct 2019
This is such wise, beautiful and understanding advice.
Continue as you have been with one major change. Stop letting what these women do or say bother you. I like Barb's suggestion of "tell them that your father has your complete and loving support". Then leave it at that, don't feed their viciousness.

Could it be that these women are, maybe, trying to help or show caring and compassion for your mom. Don't waste any more of your time or energy trying to figure these women out or understand their action. Take it as it is and leave it at that.

And know it s wonderful that dad has decided to let someone into his life. And more wonderful that you support him. And dad can manage this himself. You do not need to defend him.
Helpful Answer (12)
katiekat2009 Oct 2019
She might also add, "And, frankly. It's none of your business."
It is ok to say "I don't wish to discuss this at this time. It would be helpful if you can respect this right now".
Helpful Answer (11)
NeedHelpWithMom Oct 2019
Short and sweet. Directly to the point! I love this ‘no nonsense’ approach. The bonus is that not a lot of time is wasted on ignorance.

Great answer!
Shortyhan I am amazed at Your maturity and unselfishness for a Girl of only 24 years. You as a Family have done wonderful Caring for Your Mom at home for a few years while She is now in Care and all Her needs are being attended to. When I was young It used to bother me when nosey People commented negatively to or about me but I learned to ignore them like water off a ducks back. Judgemental People are negative, where as We need positivity in Our Lives. You as a Family are very cloce and that is very positive as unity will get You All this difficult time. Keep Your chin up and ignore the tongue waggers.
Helpful Answer (11)

God bless you for your devotion to ur family, 'Shortyhan'. You're fortunate that your family is 'close knit', & supportive of each other. I do hate the rude invasion of your privacy, by the 'friends' of mom. Sorry to say, it's unlikely those people would listen to reason, nor do they deserve any explanation from you.
It may help to send a representative, (to address the issue with those 'friends'), like a pastor, or social worker: who may have seen this before. Please update us if we can help more. Best wishes to ur family!
Helpful Answer (10)
Frances73 Oct 2019
Involving a religious figure is a good idea. If they are part of the mother's congregation that person might have some influence over their behavior. It probably won’t stop the nasty behavior but might quiet the comments.
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