Family Mess

4 Dec

Dear LetterBalm: My mom and dad don’t have the best marriage. Dad has been sick with cancer and other health problems for the past year. Mom doesn’t seem to care a thing about it. She doesn’t accompany him to his doctors or ask about his prognosis (which is iffy). Last month, she didn’t even go to the hospital to visit him when he had to stay for a week. I can’t figure out whether mom’s in denial or doesn’t care. If she’s avoiding dealing with dad’s illness, she could have a huge reaction later on – she has a history of this behavior. I seem to be the only one of my three siblings who is concerned. We have rallied as a family to take care of dad, who doesn’t want to talk about mom and his illness. It’s a disaster. What should I do?

–Middle Child

Surely some good will come from all this, but it’s hard to see right now. It looks like you, by default, will have to take your family in hand. Your dad is understandably afraid of his prognosis and isn’t close with his wife. It sounds like the whole family, other than you, is in avoidance mode, big time. Ms. L.B. suggests you have an informal family meeting with your siblings. Don’t make a big deal of it, but outline the situation and see if you can convince the most reasonable among them to take your side and take action:

Sibs, I won’t waste words. Dad won’t be getting better any time soon, and Mom is in serious denial about his condition. We all know what happened when Aunt Agnes died – Mom didn’t want to know anything about her illness, then she went all emotional and we had our hands full. We can’t have that  again. I think we should talk with Dad’s doctors. They probably know a support group for Mom or a therapist who deals with grief avoidance. Or, maybe a psychiatrist who can monitor Mom and prescribe mild anti-anxiety medication. Do any of you have other ideas? I think we really need to stick together and help each other with this.

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