Monday, September 14, 2009

On elder abuse

So, this is me sort of asking for advice.

As some of you know, last week I took off to Michigan for a few days to check out the wedding places.  I think I spent a total of 3 hours with my actual family, a friend of mine being kind enough to let me stay with her--and for good reason.  Staying even those 3 hours was an intolerable excursion through dysfunction. 

First, some quick family background: my mom divorced my dad over seventeen years ago.  Since they split up, he's been living at his parents' house.  He's essentially waiting for my grandparents to die; his logic is "Why should I buy a house.  My parents will be dead soon."  Yeah, you've been saying that longer than I've been alive. 

Now, my dad is from a family of alcoholics.  I have vivid memories of my grandma and grandpa bringing beer in the car with them when they drove me and my little brother anywhere--the console is apparently a suitable cooler.  I can count on one hand how often I've interacted with my dad when he was sober.  Those are precious few times where I found him to be an actual "dad." 

Other than alcoholism, that side of my family also has anger issues, which is probably worsened by the alcohol addiction.  There have been times where I didn't even realize how the situation suddenly changed from a laughing visit to a vicious verbal assault on one or more family members.  I remember one time my dad was searching for his keys while my brother, grandma, grandpa, and I waited on the cold dark porch (my dad being too drunk to figure out which key he needed).  My grandma told my dad to hurry up, and suddenly everyone was screaming.  We got in the house, and the fight didn't cease.  I remember being upset and scared, and finally hiding under a table in the basement laundry room. 

My grandmother had to stop drinking a few years back after her stroke, and since then her drastic mood swings seem to have intensified.  Two years ago, my grandpa took a nasty fall down the basement steps, and cracked his head open on the stone floor at the bottom.  Since then he's been in and out of the hospital for various treatments and surgeries, and he's spent intermittent amounts of time recovering in nursing homes.  My dad now has an excuse to remain living in his parents' basement--to take care of them in their old age. 

Now, the only person that does any housework is my brother, and he does the minimum, since it shouldn't fall to him, which makes my dad's excuse pitiable, at best.  The house is in serious neglect.  No one has dusted or vacuumed in years.  When the cats get sick, the vomit is ignored.  I know I hurt my grandma's feelings when I refuse to eat or sleep there, but it's honestly disgusting, and I have asthma--just sitting in that house causes me to wheeze.  Anyone who's ever experienced chronic breathing problems will know where I'm coming from.  Not being able to breathe is one of my most frightening nightmares.  My dad is able-bodied, and supposedly living there to take care of his ailing parents, yet he really doesn't do anything.

Anyway, the atmosphere of that house is one of hate and constant verbal abuse.  They can all put on a show to outsiders, but close friends and family have seen them at their worst.  My grandmother has always seemed to hate my grandpa, but that seems to have intensified after she's had to give up drinking, and even more so now that my grandpa has special needs.  No one has anything nice to say to anyone else.  It seems like all they know is fighting, and insulting one another.  And they don't think anything is wrong with this.  To them, it's the norm to live in constant discord. 

This last time I was at their house, I was only able to talk to my grandpa for about five minutes before my grandma interrupted him.  He spends most of his day hiding out in the garage--he's made a sort of refuge out there, complete with a tv and all his old movies.  Because as soon as he comes in, my grandmother attacks him.  About everything.  He's walking too slowly, or too quickly.  He's breathing too loudly, or coughing too much.  I heard recently that he was taking too long in the bathroom, and my grandma was apparently so incensed that when he opened the door she took his walker from him and threw it down the hallway. 

When I was visiting, my grandpa came in for dinner, and my grandma dropped the plate in front of him.  He didn't utter a single word.  It looked like a scene from a prison movie.  It was heartbreaking to watch him.  I spoke to him, and he seemed reluctant to talk--or even do so loudly enough for my grandma to overhear.  He mustered up the guts to ask my grandma for a pickle.  It took her ten minutes to calm down.  It was awful to witness. 

But the worst goes on when I'm not there.  My friends and relatives who go over to help him out are worried my grandma might hit him, if she's not already.  Friends take care of his infusions because they're afraid she'll get impatient and hurt him.  She rips him apart daily, calling him names, and as soon as he leaves the room she puts on this "poor me, I love my husband so much--I don't know what I'd do if something happened to him" act.  It's disgusting. 

One family member told me that she was worried about my grandpa's well-being.  He once whispered to her that he wished he was dead, and it's small wonder.  People can only take so much verbal abuse before it starts to sink in, before that person starts to feel less than.  And this is what my grandpa is living with every day.  I was talking with friends and family (beyond the immediate family) and we're all convinced that my grandma must suffer from some type of mood disorder, but she doesn't trust doctors, and won't take her medicine. 

I came home crying on Saturday.  I was so upset with how my grandpa is being treated--no one should have to feel like that.  And my dad, proving more and more useless as he refuses to set the beer can down, won't say anything.  Not that it would do anything anyway, since they're all time-bombs. But I felt so helpless.  And it's so bad my grandpa doesn't even want to be alive.  So what can be done?  Family and friends wish they can do something for my grandpa, but they also don't know what can be done to help.  Surely there are ways to report elder abuse, even if it is verbal, and even if it is from the victim's spouse, right?

If anyone has any thoughts, I'd love to read them.  I'll be looking into elder abuse, and how one can report it, but if anyone has any experience or advice, it's all welcome.  


stufflikemikans said...

Unfortunately, I have no experience with this, and I don't know what resources are out there for elderly abuse.

One thing I think you should do right now is contact those friends of family members you mentioned that want to help. There's no question that this is a case of abuse, but your case will look even stronger if you have more people to testify to it. Not to mention, it will make this whole situation easier to get through if you can all work together.

Sorry I can't offer anymore help. I hope your grandpa is able to get out of that situation.

occhiblu said...

Adult Protective Services would be where you'd report elder abuse. Michigan's APS.

occhiblu said...

A therapy/social work organization like this might also help (I don't know if that organization is in the right geographical area for your family). Even if you feel weird about setting up an appointment for a social worker to come to their home, it might be worth calling to see if they have other ideas for you.

Craig said...

I read this and it really pained me. I suspect some elderly abuse in my family but we attacked as a family and moved people around. But sadly I have no real answers. That bugs me because I really wish I could say something worthwhile.

Renee said...

What a terrible situation. I wish that I could offer some kind of help but unfortunately I really don't know what to do in the case of elder abuse.

FilthyGrandeur said...

thanks for the advice everyone--i will be looking into my options, but since there's not a strong sense of family on that side, i don't know if i can count on anyone backing me. everyone seems afraid of upsetting my grandma, even though that's inevitable. i appreciate the support nonetheless. i feel sort of stuck as it is, plus living in a different state makes things difficult.

amanda said...

Oh hon. I'm sorry. I recognize the quiet your grandpa is exhibiting, even when you try to give him space to talk. He knows that even if you are accepting, anything he says (or the fact that he dared to speak, period) can and will be used against him later by her... its a pattern in my family too...

I'm not sure what the law is in Michigan. In PA, elderly and disabled folks actually have the right to assistive services to live on their own in the community - rather than in nursing homes. Search for "independent living" near their area -- there should be an IL center nearby -- contact them and ask for advice. They should be able to refer you to resources in general on what is available to him as an elderly/disabled man as well... ADAPT is organized in most places as well and may have some advice.

That requires, of course, moving out on his own :-\ and he might not be ready for that. Separation is a big thing in a relationship with that long a history, and theres also just the fact that when you suffer this kind of abuse, over time your trust in your own sense of self breaks down, so you feel less able/motivated to get out of the situation - you feel like this is the norm, nothing would be different anyway, this is what you deserve, this is all thats available to you anyhow, etc.

Are there any extended family members you can trust to talk to?

I don't know for sure... this is all my foggy brain throwing things out there. It's awful that you (plural) are having to go through this and I really hope you are able to find someone/somewhere that can really help.

luvandfamily said...

I am truly saddened that your grandfather is in that environment. He has always had a quiet demeanor,years ago when he was healthy he said many times 'its easier than arguing'. I truly wish I had some rights to step in and help. I probably don't though. If you find a resource that states you have a voice in this situation - WE HAVE A HOME FOR HIM TO COME TO! Seriously. And DaddyGrandeur says so too! I am keeping your grandpa in my prayers.