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Carol Bradley Bursack, Published June 26 2011

Bursack: Make peace with father who takes mom’s abuse

Dear Carol: My mother has end-stage lung cancer and Alzheimer’s. She’s in a hospice program at home. She can be quite aggressive at times, and usually my father is the target. Over the years, he has taken on the personality of a battered husband.

I’m very concerned because he is post-triple bypass, diabetic and has kidney problems.

Recently, I have also become an abuse target. Mom has caretakers 24/7, but my father has told them they are not to come into the room unless he asks for them. He is doing 90 percent of the care. He won’t listen to the hospice nurses when they suggest medical help for his anxiety and gets mad at me when I intervene. Now I don’t feel like I should go over there because I have become a major trigger that makes both of my parents mad. I feel like my back is against the wall because I can’t help my dad. What do I do? – Suzanne

Dear Suzanne: It’s painful to watch one parent accept abuse from the other parent knowing that they will resent you for intervening. However, the hard fact of life is that your father is an adult and able to make his own choices. You didn’t say if your mom was always abusive. Alzheimer’s can make people angry and aggressive, but that is the disease, not the person. Your dad may understand this. Even if your mom was always abusive, he is still responsible for his choices.

I understand that you want to buffer your dad from your mom’s behavior, but it’s not working. I’d suggest that you try to make peace with your dad so that you can still visit. That will mean that you have to try to understand the disease, forgive your mom for her behavior and help your dad cope.

You can get some tools for doing this from the Alzheimer’s Association. Call your local office or go to www.alz.org. They have a question-and-answer help line on the site, and your local office will have a social worker to help you.

If you can offer an apology to your dad – yes, I know that will grate on you, but it may be the only way – you may find yourself more welcome in the house. Work with the hospice nurses to minimize the stress on your dad. Keep telling yourself that there is an end to this but that your dad has vowed to see it through and the only way you can help him is to make peace between the two of you.


Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.