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Indigent Parent With Failing Health Who Doesn't Want to Help Themself
Old 12-07-2014, 09:12 PM   #1
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Indigent Parent With Failing Health Who Doesn't Want to Help Themself

I've been struggling with what to do about my ailing mother. We don't have much contact but lately health issues have caused her to reach out for help (money and support). The situation is very new territory for me and I'm hoping that the thoughts of others here and their experience might help me put my options in perspective.

My mother is relatively young (64, turns 65 in a few months) and we've not had much contact the past 10 to 15 years due to her alcoholism. As long as she continued drinking I did not want to be a part of her drama. Really our relationship has been rocky for decades.

She's developed diabetes and a whole host of health issues which culminated in a recent minor stroke. Fortunately my brother happened to be staying with her and was able to help out as she recovered (no significant loss of faculties).

Right after she was released from the hospital I flew down for a few days and was not happy that she and he continue to chain smoke. She claims she's trying to cut back (down to a pack/day from 2). Her mobility is severely limited (pre-stroke issue, arthritic hips/knees) such that she sleeps on the sofa on the ground floor and doesn't make much use of the rooms upstairs.

My mother no longer drinks, her body just can't tolerate it. Right before the stroke my brother informed me that she "snuck" a couple drinks (she wasn't fooling anybody he said) which in short order caused her to vomit herself and fall in the bathroom.

So now my unemployed penniless brother is staying with her after a recent breakup and cross-country move. Her SS supports them both I assume (been this way for about 4 months), probably $800/mo. Her townhouse already has a reverse mortgage and the funds from that have already been spent. She's on medicaid and will qualify for medicare in a few months. I believe she has SNAP (Supp Nutrition Assist. Prog) if she didn't let it expire.

So that's some of the backstory.

Emotionally I'm very conflicted about how involved and responsible I should become to bring her care in order. The likelihood of another stroke is high given her lack of self-care and it's only a matter of time until she needs some sort of assisted living.

I've sent her some money recently to help with medical bills and medication. I fear the monetary support could lead to a bad outcome however because after my visit she called and hinted that perhaps my sister and I should pay something to my brother for his time/care.

Part of me feels responsible as her son to take care of her however she's created the mess that she's in through her life-long addiction. The fact that she continues to smoke just signals to me that she doesn't want to help herself.

Sorry for the long, sad story. Any advice?
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Old 12-07-2014, 09:43 PM   #2
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Any good Substance Use Disorder counselors in your area? Or, could you work with the state Health and Welfare (or equivalent) department to get her involved in some programs?


She needs to deal with the alcoholism. Not much you can do until that is dealt with.


Only other thing I can think of is pay the utilities or something like that. I wouldn't give her cash. You know where that will go.
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Old 12-08-2014, 12:18 AM   #3
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Your first priority should be to yourself and your own family. You really can't save her from herself and you certainly don't need to enable your brother. Don't drown yourself to pull a dead body out of the water,,,,,
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Old 12-08-2014, 02:02 AM   #4
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Sorry to hear about your tough situation. We have a relative or two I suspect may be asking us for help down the line, too.

What I have thought of that I would do is explore all public service help. Have you looked into subsidized housing as well as phone and utility programs, free weather stripping, addiction counseling and whatever else is available in your state for low income families? There are actually many programs I never knew existed until I started looking into it. Can your brother qualify for unemployment insurance or financial aid for school - maybe some kind of short term job training program at a community college? It sounds like he might not be the type to go but if you could help him find tuition assistance or maybe help with the tuition yourself if you could afford it you could take the teach a man to fish kind of approach. Otherwise if you just send him money there is no exit plan for you to ever stop it.

Suze Ormans' suggestion to a caller with a similar kind of parent was to pay a bill or two, like rent or electricity, directly so the parent never got a hold of the money.

Your mom may be too sick to work, but for your brother there are also lots of little ways to make extra money online - like mturk and other ideas on the Reddit beer money thread. Four dollars an hour or so doing little online tasks can add up to a nice little income boost over the span of a month for a person who is otherwise broke and unemployed, until he find a job or starts some kind of job training program.
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Old 12-08-2014, 07:07 AM   #5
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I remember some 80s rocker (Jon Bon Jovi?) who said nicotine was harder to give up than heroin. If your mom really has cut her smokes down by half, that's a real effort.

I'm afraid I don't have any good advice other than be sure to take care of yourself and your immediate family first. but thank you for sharing, that takes courage.
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Old 12-08-2014, 07:21 AM   #6
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Your first priority should be to yourself and your own family. You really can't save her from herself and you certainly don't need to enable your brother. Don't drown yourself to pull a dead body out of the water,,,,,
+1 Her current circumstances are the consequences of her past poor decisions. Do what you can without jeopardizing your security.

So she's supporting your dead-beat bro and wants you and y0ur sister to do that? Fat chance. Same thing for him.... he made his bed, let him lie in it.
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Old 12-08-2014, 08:34 AM   #7
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It's a tragic situation but don't let guilt drag you in. smoking is expensive.....it's a terrible and hard habit to quit but your mother and brother could quit. If you can afford it, I agree, pay a bill or two directly each month but limit yourself to that.....if your family would suffer, don't even do that. There is no way to be a "good Son" to a Mother like yours. Use her example of what not to do for yourself and your family. I feel so sorry for you......I don't feel any sympathy for your Mother or brother. All the best to you.
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Old 12-08-2014, 09:07 AM   #8
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Sorry to hear about your Mother . Most towns have committees on aging that will give you information on all the help that is available for free or limited cost .I would look into that and pay a utility bill or two .
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Old 12-08-2014, 09:33 AM   #9
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I think the idea to help with utility bills is a good one, assuming this will not be hardship for you. I agree that just because you are the son does not obligate you to do all means possible. It is hard to be sympathetic to someone that is self-inflicted problems. Your description sounds like the alcohol is not a current problem anymore, besides the damage done over the many years previous. Continued smoking is bad of course, as well as the monetary cost.

From what you describe, it should be possible to contact the state agencies to see what assistance might be available. Like Sec 8 for housing and SNAP for food. All utilities have programs for low-cost subsidized rates, get that set up for sure. You have the smarts to be able to contact and work with the utilities to set this up.

Your brother living with mom needs to be responsible for himself and get some income. It was his decision to move in with your mom, and assuming he is providing some care for her, that is his contribution. Your sister and yourself can help with the utilities as your contribution. Don't give cash directly is good advice.
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Old 12-08-2014, 09:58 AM   #10
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Well I have some experience, don't know if it's advice. Take what you want and leave the rest.

First thing to remember is addiction, of any sort, is a disease. Doesn't mean you are responsible, but treat them as sick people, they are.

My best friend, we were like brothers (physically 1000 miles apart) is an alcoholic/addict. Haven't spoken in 15 years, my last words to him were "I love you but I can't fix your illness. If you want help I know people that can help with addiction. Call me when you want to get sober." Still waiting, kills me to know he's suffering while there are treatments available. But I know I can't fix him.

The second point is I'm also an ex-smoker. Terrible addiction hits you physically, then mentally (I can have one!) that never worked for me. Smoked for 25+ years every day, two packs of Camel non-filters.

So why did I quit? I had no signs of COPD or other smoking related illness. I was in an accident and caused the nerves in my neck to swell. Out of work for 3 months, in what DRs called "severe pain", they need a different name! A nuersurgon explained I'd likely have more experiences like that, due to smoking causing the capillaries to be able to pass less oxygen to my disks. I quit that moment (don't think the doc believed me). Fear of more pain is what caused me to quit.

My approach to quit was throw them away now, and never touch another. For me cutting back was pure torture, maybe some can wean off. I've never known anyone that was successful with that approach.

A good friend, former cocaine addict, who quit (cocaine)cold turkey. He couldn't kick cigarettes, was successful with the aid of Chantix. Maybe it's worth a try.

I'd be careful with how much enabling you and sister do. Easy to say, hard to do. Somewhere in my journeys a wise person told me this:
"We don't change untill the pain of staying the same is greater of the pain of changing". I believe she is correct.

Best wishes and prayers for your family.


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Old 12-08-2014, 10:14 AM   #11
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Your first priority should be to yourself and your own family. You really can't save her from herself and you certainly don't need to enable your brother. Don't drown yourself to pull a dead body out of the water,,,,,
I disagree. You should do everything you can to help your mother and brother. What's happening to America when this sort of attitude is expressed and even admired.

Helping your mother might be difficult and make you uncomfortable at times, but you must do everything you can to help her. Have you though about getting her to move closer to you. Money isn't necessarily the solution here, get your family together and see if some love and regular visits can help.
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Old 12-08-2014, 10:48 AM   #12
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Suze Ormans' suggestion to a caller with a similar kind of parent was to pay a bill or two, like rent or electricity, directly so the parent never got a hold of the money.
If I pay the electric bill for example, then the person that I am helping has one less bill to pay out of their income and therefore more money to engage in undesirable or even destructive habits - drinking or smoking in the OP's case. Money being fungible, paying their bills is as good as giving them cash. At least it has been in my experience.

As for the OP, I would probably help if it were my mother. Probably not as much as I would if I had a close and loving relationship with her, but I would make sure that the basics were covered. My problem would be with the brother sponging off her meager income.
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Old 12-08-2014, 11:44 AM   #13
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I'm afraid anything you do will simply enable bad behavior. The primary mission of a "taker" is to find someone to take from.

If you want to help, you need to see their budget. Where does every dollar go? Only then will you have a clue whether you have a role in helping. You already know that she's spending $100 to $150/mo (or more) on cigarettes. That's 10 - 20% of her income. Add your brother's smoking to the expenses and you're getting really up there as a budget item.

I noticed you are in Mexico. Obviously, my comments on cig costs don't apply in Mexico but she's already getting Medicaid. I'm assuming your mother lives in the US.
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Old 12-08-2014, 11:59 AM   #14
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Sorry to hear about your mother (less so about your brother). As others have pointed out, any help you give will not only enable your mother's poor decisions, but also your brother's apparent parasitic behavior. This may sound callous, but I would advise keeping your distance. Your mother's problems have been going on for 10-15 years, with your brother now representing an additional burden to her (that she voluntarily assumed - call him another "addiction" if you want).

I disagree with the old adage "you can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family." You can choose to spend (or not to spend) your time, money and emotional energy with either.
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Old 12-08-2014, 12:05 PM   #15
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As you mother qualifies for Medicaid already, medical expenses should not change much when she is Medicare eligible I would think. Likely her Part B will be paid by DPW (here in PA the program is, or was, called Healthy Horizons) and Medicaid will be the secondary payer. If your mother decided to go into subsidized senior housing the cost is typically one-third of a person's income. I don't think your brother could move with her to this type of housing however unless he was disabled and a two-bedroom unit was available. One advantage of subsidized housing is that generally there are no utility bills other than phone/cable TV. Be aware though, depending on what state your Mom is in, that the sale of her home if it generated much money could knock her off Medicaid. In PA the cash asset levels are quite low (a couple of thousand bucks I think but this would have to be verified with DPW).

I don't think it is so bad that brother is living with Mom if he is a help to her. I would have a talk with him about getting a job so as to continue to pay into his SS and provide for not only present-day expenses but also with a view to his future. Maybe you can give some guidance with job hunting or career development or locate some agency that would assist him. I might provide him some short-term financial help if he was diligent in his efforts but I don't think I would pay him to be Mom's caregiver as I don't think this would be in his best long-term interest.
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Old 12-08-2014, 12:42 PM   #16
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Im amazed at some of the answers on here. Money is not really the issue here. I'd make time to visit your mother regularly and plan to get her and your brother closer to you if you can. Do you have children, from experience grandchildren are a joy to grand parents and can be a catalyst for remarkable changes. Your mum needs family and love, not necessarily money.
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Old 12-08-2014, 01:05 PM   #17
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Im amazed at some of the answers on here. Money is not really the issue here. I'd make time to visit your mother regularly and plan to get her and your brother closer to you if you can. Do you have children, from experience grandchildren are a joy to grand parents and can be a catalyst for remarkable changes. Your mum needs family and love, not necessarily money.
Not all families are Ozzie and Harriet types. Nazi prison guards and serial killers can have kids, but their grown kids shouldn't be made to feel guilty for not wanting to spend lots of time with them and nurture them in their old age. Where one's own parents fall on the continuum from Ozzie and Harriet at one end to serial killers on the other is something we all have to decide for ourselves.
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Old 12-08-2014, 01:15 PM   #18
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Where one's own parents fall on the continuum from Ozzie and Harriet at one end to serial killers on the other is something we all have to decide for ourselves.
Very true. And sometimes mine move along the spectrum in the course of a dinner conversation.

To the OP, I am sorry for this situation in your life. I would say follow your own instincts and trust yourself to know what actions to take (if any) to feel that you've done right by yourself. No one else can really say what you may or may not "owe" her or your brother. Do what makes you sleep at night. Best wishes as you struggle with this.
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Old 12-08-2014, 01:24 PM   #19
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Not all families are Ozzie and Harriet types. Nazi prison guards and serial killers can have kids, but their grown kids shouldn't be made to feel guilty for not wanting to spend lots of time with them and nurture them in their old age. Where one's own parents fall on the continuum from Ozzie and Harriet at one end to serial killers on the other is something we all have to decide for ourselves.
+1

I was about to type something similar. I'm not interested in having my small grandchildren hanging around an alcoholic chain smoker in addition to other issues I see. I don't want to hang around one either. We can visit but I don't see anything close to a loving, nuturing relationship springing into full bloom.
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Old 12-08-2014, 01:29 PM   #20
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I disagree. You should do everything you can to help your mother and brother. What's happening to America when this sort of attitude is expressed and even admired.

Helping your mother might be difficult and make you uncomfortable at times, but you must do everything you can to help her. Have you though about getting her to move closer to you. Money isn't necessarily the solution here, get your family together and see if some love and regular visits can help.
Have you had experience with alcoholism with a close family member? It ain't pretty and yes they hide the bottles, etc. You can get pulled into that cycle and I believe cause more damage than help if you are not very careful.
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