Annie's Mailbox for Feb. 12, 2011: Stepmother isolating elderly father

Dear Annie: My father married my stepmother 20 years ago. Three years ago, he suffered a stroke. Though moderately disabled, he is still mentally sharp, didn't lose his speech and is able to do most things for himself.

He is happy as a homebody, but my stepmother has made it increasingly clear that he will be going off to a care facility soon. Dad has reluctantly agreed. The problem is, the place she's chosen is nowhere near any family members. She claims she will visit him often, but we know she is planning to do more traveling, and my father will be left completely isolated. She refuses to consider a closer alternative and shuts anyone down who mentions it. Dad is afraid to speak up.

We are all heartbroken. What can we do?

— Need To Protect Dad

Dear Need: Is this possibly a financial issue? Is the chosen facility less expensive than one near you? Could you contribute to the cost? Otherwise, if your stepmother is deliberately isolating Dad, it could be considered elder abuse. Explain the problem to Dad's doctor and ask for assistance. You also can contact the local Adult Protective Services or get information through the Eldercare Locator (1-800-677-1116) and the National Center on Elder Abuse (ncea.aoa.gov).

Dear Annie: After 47 years of marriage, we have a problem we can't resolve.

My husband does not like my only niece, "Gina," and doesn't want her to visit our home. He expects me to tell her she's not welcome. He believes Gina is a user, but she has never done anything to him or taken advantage of us.

Gina lives 300 miles away, and I love her and enjoy her rare visits. On top of that, my 97-year-old mother lives with us, and I think Gina has the right to see her grandmother whether my husband likes it or not. He thinks I should forbid Gina from coming to our home because our wedding vows included "forsaking all others."

It would break my niece's heart if I told her she cannot see her grandmother. I won't do it. I believe my husband is way out of line. And how would I tell my Mom that her only granddaughter won't be coming to see her anymore? Am I wrong to think he's being unreasonable?

— Frustrated and Depressed

Dear Frustrated: "Forsaking all others" does not mean cutting off your family. It means married people don't have affairs. And although Hubby's feelings should be taken into consideration, so should yours. He is being extremely unfair to you and your mother. Decisions like this should not be unilateral. Everyone who lives in the house gets a vote. If your husband doesn't want to see Gina, he can absent himself when she comes for her infrequent visits to Grandma.

Dear Annie: I thought your response to "Still Smoking" was very polite. I find it hard to be that nice since my stepfather was addicted to smoking and lost most of his tongue due to cancer.

Dad used to take offense when we didn't agree that it was his right to smoke and refused to join him in the smoking sections of restaurants. That story has changed now that he has to eat with a stomach tube. While we enjoy family dinners, he watches from the sofa. He has lost his career as a trial lawyer because he can no longer speak.

It is compassionate to explain that you value your health enough to move away from a smoker, and smokers should not take offense. In fact, if they could meet my stepfather, they'd quit on the spot. I guarantee my children will never smoke. They often share this story with their classmates at school.

— Compassionate Non-Smoker

Dear Compassionate: We wish your guarantee worked for everyone, but people drift into smoking and later find quitting nearly impossible. We appreciate your taking the time to write and know your letter will help others.

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