DEAR AMY: My mother-in-law is a fun, smart, interesting 87-year-old alcoholic. Her children have approached her about her excessive drinking, but she perceives it as one of the final joys in her life. In addition to the health concerns, when she drinks she becomes belligerent toward her children, their spouses/friends and her grandchildren. For years I turned the other cheek during her drunken tirades. That changed recently when she verbally assaulted one of her grandchildren, and I felt the need to come to their rescue. My response had the immediate impact I was hoping for, and the next day she even apologized to her grandchild. Unfortunately, since the incident she has refused to return to the house. She is telling my wife she doesn’t feel welcome, and is threatening to stay away during the holidays. My wife has asked that I go beyond just letting her know she is welcome to return. She has suggested that I apologize for speaking up. My wife is understandably concerned that at 87 her mother has a limited number of holiday seasons left. How do I tactfully tell my mother-in-law that I want her to be with us, but not the side of her that appears after a few cocktails?
DEAR DAD: You did the right thing to intervene and confront your mother-in-law regarding her verbal abuse of her grandchild.
She did the right thing and apologized directly to the child.
She is likely very embarrassed at this point (for good reason), and is facing the tough truth, that her drinking interferes with her most treasured relationships.
I agree with your wife that you should contact her now, not to apologize for doing the right thing, but to thank her for doing the right thing.
You can say, “Elsie, I want you to know that I appreciate you apologizing to your grandchild for your outburst. That must have been hard to do and I’m so glad you did it. It means a lot. I hope you know that we treasure you and want to spend as much time as possible with you. You are wonderful when you’re sober. Your personality, however, completely changes when you’re drinking. The kids and I look forward to seeing you over the holidays; we hope you’ll be with us.”
DEAR AMY: I caught my now ex-husband lying numerous times. He loves to say he was a Vietnam vet (he was not). He was a violent binge drinker and would smash up the house. He was very abusive and beat me, held a loaded gun to my head and terrorized me. He cheated and gave me an STD. I finally left him. I learned he told my sister and other people that he had once been investigated for murder. He has changed the details of the story several times. My sister refuses to tell me exactly what he said. She tells me I am “blowing it out of proportion.” How do I get her to talk?
DEAR ANGRY: You should not get your sister to talk. Given what you describe about this man, he is a violent drunk and congenital liar.
You should stay as far away from your ex as possible. Even discussing him keeps you tied to him and involved with him. Your curiosity about this now is a vestige of his control, and so I hope you will break from it — and him — permanently.
DEAR AMY: My mother, now approaching 102 years of age, was a lovely, thoughtful, hardworking person as I was growing up, but she was an absent parent who provided little nurturing for me or my younger brother. She actually found everything and anything to distract her attention from an unhappy marriage, life and home. My brother and I spent many long nights home alone, fending for ourselves. As a result, as an adult, my brother has little interest in her well-being, but, I’ve brought her to live with me. It is a wonderful, therapeutic and cathartic experience trying to be the mother to her that she never was to me. Being a caregiver, though extremely difficult, can be an important tool in the healing process.
DEAR GRATEFUL: I agree.