Advice From the Trenches

Advice From The Trenches: Everyone’s Business

Advice From The Trenches

Dear C,

My friend Lou lives one state away. His dad is 82 now, with no family left but Lou, and for the last few months all I’ve heard about is how stubborn dad is, how his recliner has to be fixed every week, etc, etc – and the sheer amount of time it is taking up. 

I had to look after my own elderly father until he died, so I understood his frustrations. At first, I just listened; after all, people need to vent. But this summer the situation became more serious. Lou’s father lives alone and has fallen more than once. The last time, he was found unconscious on the floor with all the windows in the house shut and no AC – on a 90 degree day!

This was the point where I started to make suggestions and tell Lou that his dad needed more help. He kept making excuses like: “Well, I keep telling him but he ignores me” and “He’ll do what he wants no matter what anyone says.” 

The one thing that I learned while caring for my elderly father before he died is that you can’t let an aging parent who is clearly becoming incapacitated make their own essential health decisions. At a certain age, it is time for the child to step up and become the parent. But when I told him this, Lou just dug his heels in and said, “I can’t worry about it. I’m not going to be there 24/7 and if I put him in a home he’ll kill himself – believe me he will. I’m staying out of it.” Then he made some jokes and changed the subject.

This was when I begged Lou to contact Medicare, telling him that there were plenty of  services covered by insurance for home care. I apologized for being annoying but said that it really was a matter of life or death if another heat wave hit. That’s when Lou stopped writing.

After a month, I finally sent an email asking what was going on. I got back a nasty letter telling me that he didn’t want to hear it and it was none of my business. Then he blocked my emails and unfriended me on Facebook.

What the hell! Am I really just being a pushy asshole who sticks her nose where it doesn’t belong? I still feel like there’s something I should do!       

Nosey Nora

C says:

I find Lou’s response interesting – mostly because it echoes the response that every abusive parent or spouse gives when an outsider steps in and raises questions: “Stay out of this, it’s none of your business!”

Lou would be right to tell you to mind your own business if there was nothing but the usual family/relationship drama going on – that really IS nobody’s business. But when the drama escalates and lives are in danger, that is a game changer. What Lou is doing has crossed the line. It borders on elder abuse, and when abuse is happening to those in someone’s care, it becomes everyone’s business. That is precisely why laws against abuse exist. 

Unfortunately, it sounds to me like Lou is as stubborn as his dad. Telling him again and again that he needs to do something won’t help. If Lou lives in another state, about the only recourse you have now is asking his other friends to keep an eye on his dad. You could also notify social services of suspected elder abuse. I wouldn’t worry about pissing off Lou. If he has cut off communications, it’s a clear indication that he has shut the door on your friendship as well.

Lou is what a therapist would call a “help-rejecting clinger.” He enjoys complaining about problems but he doesn’t want to fix them. I feel badly for his dad. But as far as friendships go, I’d say that this one has become toxic. You did everything you could. Stop beating yourself up. You can’t help people who don’t want to be helped. It’s time to walk away.