Dear Carolyn: My mom died two years ago and she ruled my parents’ relationship. My 86-year-old father has never had to make any decisions and can’t step up to keep the family together.
One of my five sisters, “Rosie,” has alienated all of us (by being verbally abusive) but lives closest to my father and has ingratiated herself into his life. She makes all his decisions, plans overseas trips with him and is trying to organize his financial affairs because she is worried about her inheritance. She also is very secretive and won’t tell us any of her plans for him.
Rosie physically attacked one sister, “Sally,” and they are not talking to each other. Sally’s daughter is getting married and they did not invite Rosie and her family, so my father says he is not going. We are trying to convince him to not spoil his granddaughter’s special day and that my mom would want him there to represent both of them. And also that the fight is between the sisters, not involving him. Also, he is being hypocritical because years ago, at my mom’s 60th birthday party, he refused to invite one of her sisters. What can we do to convince him to go to the wedding?
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Can you step up to keep the family together — that’s the bigger question, isn’t it?
Your father is clearly vulnerable. Rosie, if I take your account at face value, is unstable, abusive and exploiting his vulnerability to her own advantage.
These two facts reduce wedding attendance and your niece’s feelings on her “special day” to mere trifles. Yes, family warmth and unity are important and yes a wedding is a way both to build and express such unity, but even if you persuaded your father to come, you’d still have the much more pressing problem to face of an (alleged) abuser making inroads with Dad.
So please take the lead in facing it. Enlist the help of your other siblings to get more involved in your father’s life. Don’t try to wrest control from Rosie — your dad could too easily be chief victim of such a power struggle — but instead just assert yourselves through presence in his home.
There are a lot of you, so having each of you show up to care for your dad in a relatively non-burdensome rotation would still make for high visibility in his life of people who prioritize his needs over their own. It might be too late to keep Rosie from insinuating herself into your father’s finances, but you can and should position yourselves to monitor his well-being up close.
If one of you can manage a genuine detente with Rosie, then even better, and not just in a “keep your enemies closer” sense. The late years of a parent’s life are so difficult logistically and emotionally that the bonds between siblings are often a casualty — to the point where it’s not uncommon for the one who assumes the role of caregiver, a la Rosie, to be cast as a grasping villain, especially where wills are involved. Judging her involvement from afar enables such myths; showing up makes room for the truth.
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