Legal Quandary

Monday, May 15, 2006

A Special Brand of Crazy

I joke fairly often that sanity isn't exactly the Quandary's strong suit. And I am mostly joking.

But I have a cousin who I am honestly starting to believe has lost it, and it weighs heavily on me. Perhaps that's not entirely correct…it weighs heavily on my mother, her Godmother, who is also geographically near her and sees the daily effects of Renee's ride on the Crazy Train.

I didn't meet my cousins until I was in Kindergarten. I knew of them, of course, but my uncle had taken a job in Argentina, so they were never in Germany at the same time as we were. (I have no idea why we never visited them in Argentina - it seems like something we would have done.) The first time I met them was when they stayed at our house for a month on their way back to Germany when my uncle transferred back. What a blast! I remember them teaching me songs in Spanish and a couple of nights before they left, we put on a show for our neighbors in the backyard. Singing, dancing, costumes - everything. As the oldest, Renee was the ringleader of that show, and the dozens of others we performed for family & neighbors through the years. (Yes, I cringe at the thought now. But at the time, everyone gave us money, so it was a quick way to make a few D-Marks.)

Renee was lots of fun. She always had wacky ideas of fun stuff to do. Her sister, Stef, was and still is, a lot more rational. Renee picked up languages quickly. She was a talented artist. She always knew which clubs were the cool ones, and which restaurants had the best food. People always wanted to hang around with her because she was fun.

I can't actually put my finger on when things started to change. Maybe I should have seen signs in high school and college, when she always seemed to be drinking. Or when she became bulimic. Maybe things didn't start going downhill until she broke up with her long-time boyfriend after he supposedly raped her and she supposedly had a miscarriage. (I say supposedly because it's not totally clear what happened. I'd known the boyfriend for years and he seemed like a decent guy. I also know Renee is somewhat prone to exaggerating making things up out of whole cloth.) Or maybe it was after she decided to start a clothing boutique, which my uncle ended up bailing out. The point is, eventually I started to notice that something. Just. Wasn't. Right. With Her. The endless cycle of men who never seemed to hang around. The inability to find a job where people "appreciated her talents." The drinking. The smoking.

Mr. Q and I made the mistake of going out with her one night. She and her boss picked us up at my parents' house. This was weird because 1) she'd been dating someone else for awhile, and 2) she'd only been working for this boss for a couple of months. From the get-go, things didn't seem right with the situation. We drove 100 km to get to this cool new bar that had just opened. I have to admit that it *did* seem pretty cool, but Mr. Q and I had been expecting something small, local, quiet, and with food. We were totally underdressed and starving. It was awkward. And then…they ditched us. Luckily, another cousin picked us up, so we were able to get home, but I have to admit I sort of wrote her off from that point on.

I saw her a couple of years ago for my Oma's 95th birthday dinner. She showed up 2 hours late, boyfriend in tow, and looking much older than I remembered. She drank too much, smoked too much, and eventually Mr. Q and I took the kids outside to get away. When my Oma died, she sat in my mom's living room and flipped through catalogs, pointing out outfits she wanted.

But what really disturbs me lately is the violence. My mom tells me that Renee just screams at my aunt. This almost 40 year old woman has moved back in with her mother and is constantly yelling at her. She's thrown knives at her mother. Last week, she threw full bottles of mineral water at her. 2 of them broke, leaving shards of glass embedded in the living room carpet. She's threatened her other Oma and called her names. She physically assaulted her mom's brother, hitting him, tearing his shirt off and then kneeing him in the groin.

Renee checked herself into the hospital 2 months ago. It was at least her third in patient visit. But she never gets any better. I suspect that it's because the staff knows that Renee is an alcoholic, and until she addresses that issue, nothing ever will change. So, they keep her for a couple of weeks, fill her head with all kinds of new psychobabble that she can project onto everyone around her, and then turn her loose again. Now she's back at home, sleeping til noon when she stumbles downstairs for a new bottle of wine.

The thing is, I wish I could feel compassion for her. I don't want to write her off. On the other hand, I don't enjoy being around her, and I'm less than thrilled about my kids spending time with her. She's just not the same person whose company I used to enjoy. And I don't think my mom is safe spending time with her.

Any thoughts?

I think your gut instincts about her mental health are right, except for the alcoholism. It's just masking the real problem and being used as self-medication when she really needs something else.

Re: the rest of your family, they need to look out for themselves. They can't hope in their minds that if they are just this, or just that, it will all get better. She likely needs some intensive psychiatric treatment and need to look out for themselves until she gets it.

- Anonymous today, but someone who's commented here before.
Dude. I hear ya. I've got an uncle who spent some time in Ward Island in NY, & he's presently bouncing around the nursing home circuit of NY trying to convince them that he's eligible for out of state medicaid using an address in NH no one in our family lives at. He USED to be a pharmaceutical executive before he drank himself into a stroke. It's a whole thing. And, as much as I might joke about my mom, she really did try to help, but even his mother (my Oma) has written him off.

You need to take care of yourself & your kids. Offer the people that are dealing with her whatever help you can, but don't get involved with her directly unless it's to keep the people that are trying to deal with her out of physical harm. It's the only thing you can do at this point...

Technically you could call the cops on her for senior abuse. But that's a big step...
Yeah, I'm not sure they even recognize elder abuse in Germany. And even if they do, I sort of doubt my aunt would be willing to do anything about it. After all, she's the one who is letting Renee live in the house rent-free and behave like this.

If I were doing this to my mom, she would have changed the locks on me long ago. And I wouldn't blame her.
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