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my alcoholic dad & terminally ill mum

(27 Posts)
geekgirl Sun 29-Jul-07 07:22:18

just when things felt they couldn't really get much worse ...

just a short summary for those who don't know - my parents are both in their late 50s, my mum has ovarian cancer; it was diagnosed out of the blue 6 months ago and unfortunately has progressed very rapidly despite treatment and a brief period during which we all thought it had gone - she is now at the point where her intestines keep getting obstructed by the cancer, in the past two weeks she has had two emergency surgeries to clear obstructions and had a colostomy put in.
She is in a lot of pain and on morphine etc., but desperate to get out of the hospital.

My dad has always been a heavy drinker. My DB and I have suspected that there is more to this than my parents let on for many years, but my mum has only now finally admitted just how much of a drinking problem my dad has. Basically, she is terrified of coming home, and needing a morphine injection or anything else really and my dad being completely paralytic and unable to help.
She is also really worried that he will drink himself to death when she dies, as he has already apparently announced he would do .

I am really and that my parents have always over the years outrightly denied that he has an alcohol problem. This really isn't a great time of having to deal with that too.

Apparently he has tried to give it up a few times but with no success, and of course now with my mum's illness it really isn't a good time for him anyway. He outrightly refuses to go to AA or any other groups.

My dad is supposed to move into a granny flat in our house in due course. I'm not sure I can handle having him here if he plans on drinking himself to death.

Someone tell me what to do - I'm going to see them both at the weekend and need to have words with my father....

NotQuiteCockney Sun 29-Jul-07 07:25:20

There are a few MNers who have dealt with their own alcohol abuse problems. If your dad wants to stop (which I'm afraid sounds unlikely ), then he might be able to get help from his GP? Now is probably a better time for him to stop (so he can help your mum) than after she dies, to be blunt.

What sort of timescale is your mum looking at?

geekgirl Sun 29-Jul-07 07:29:34

I don't know really, it depends on whether the chemo is going to work or not. I guess it could be anything from 1 month to a year.

Obviously my parents are still hoping that she's got many years left - but apparently her abdomen is completely riddled with a highly aggressive cancer and it is in/on many organs, so I can't really see her surviving 'till Christmas

Nobody talks about it openly at the moment.

geekgirl Sun 29-Jul-07 07:31:18

I agree that he probably doesn't want to stop. He has occasionally stopped for a few weeks or a couple of months, but obviously this is the most stressful time of his life really... I don't know if he can hack it.
Her concern that he will be too paralytic to respond to her is a very real one.

NotQuiteCockney Sun 29-Jul-07 07:39:00

Yes, she's quite right to be concerned.

Ok, I don't have a lot of experience with this stuff, but I do have a few thoughts.

1. He should really try to get some counselling now. It might well help with the drinking, and it would help with what's coming. Or you could at least have an idea of what NHS provisions were in place for after your mum goes.

2. Can she get nursing help at home? Or something? I don't know if these provisions take into account the state of other household members ...

3. Is there any way to sell the 'stop drinking now' or even 'cut waaaay down now' on a 'you've got to step up and take care of mum' thing? I would leave his 'drink himself to death' plan entirely out of it for the moment, wanting to die after your life partner dies is pretty understandable, and probably not worth you trying to tackle now.

The thing is, as much as you want to help your mum and dad, this is not really your problem. You can refuse to have him in your granny flat unless he goes teetotal (I would!) but it's up to him to stop drinking ...

AttilaTheMeerkat Sun 29-Jul-07 07:45:50



The problem as well is that everyone does need to talk about it openly. Ongoing ecrecy, denial of the problem and claming up does no-one any favours ultimately. Look at what all of those things has done to your father's drink problem. It solves nothing.

Alcoholism is a family disease; it does not only just affect the drinker but everyone else around that person.

There are no guarantees here with regards to his drinking - I note that he has tried to give up a few times without success (not unfortunately surprised to read that as outside help is often needed). He has also shown unwillingness to get outside help. You will not ultimately be able to help him, he has to want to help his own self.

Have the doctors given any indication as to the likelihood of your Mum leaving hospital?. I would be honest here and say it may come to pass that she may have to stay in there. I would also say that her prognosis is highly likely to be very poor. Another possible alternative is for her to be moved to a hospice - has that been discussed?. Ovarian cancer is a silent killer and is often not diagnosed until the disease has much advanced.

I would not move your Dad into the granny flat in your circumstances; that sounds very harsh but you may only end up enabling him. You are not responsible for his drinking problem, he is responsible for his own actions and he made a conscious choice to start drinking.

I would seek support for your own self from Al-anon (they can help family members) and Ovacome (ovarian cancer charity). You can help your own self and I would make you and your own family unit your number one priority.

geekgirl Sun 29-Jul-07 07:46:03

he doesn't really talk to anyone other than me about his fears etc. and unfortunately I am in the UK and he is in Germany - his GP knows he is an alcoholic, do you think it might be worth me contacting his GP? I'm not sure whether he would go for counselling.
Isn't there a medication he can take that will make him throw up if he drinks alcohol?

I really hope he can pull himself together for my mum.

NotQuiteCockney Sun 29-Jul-07 07:48:49

There is antabuse, but he'd have to agree to take it.

And, from what I know, you can just drink, throw up, and then drink more.

I don't know how the German system works, but you could try talking to his GP. Thing is, if his GP knows he's alcoholic, he's presumably offered the help that's available?

geekgirl Sun 29-Jul-07 07:51:54

thank you both for saying that I would be within my rights to say 'no' to him living here unless he is teetotal - that's how I feel really but couldn't work out whether I wouldn't be leaving him in the lurch that way IYKWIM.

My mum will get some basic nursing care at home, i.e. someone coming in once a day. She is hoping to come home this week if all goes as planned (which it hasn't so far ).

I'm not sure whether to mention the possibility of hospice care as my parents are still clinging on to hoping for some kind of miracle.

I feel like a big part of my life has just completely fallen apart within 6 months

geekgirl Sun 29-Jul-07 07:53:40

yes, I think so - I know he's done some GP-based stuff like having his bloods checked every week to prove to his GP that he hasn't been drinking etc.
The German system is pretty much like the NHS, just a bit faster.

NotQuiteCockney Sun 29-Jul-07 07:55:59

Yes, that sounds really really hard for you. In a way, it must be a relief to have your father be honest about the drink situation (or is it just your mum talking to you about it, so far?). But the whole situation sucks - for everyone involved, I bet.

AttilaTheMeerkat Sun 29-Jul-07 07:59:45

Hi geekgirl,

You should not be the only conduit for his fears - he needs to discuss his fears also with his GP and seek additional support for his own self. A person has to want to seek counselling for their own selves; you can't make them go no matter how much it could possibly help them.

I would contact his GP and speak with them at some length. Have you spoken previously to his GP?. Presumably as well his GP knows about his wife and her diagnosis. As they reside in Germany organisations like Macmillan won't be applicable but there may be a German equivalent of such an organisation.

Are there any other family members in Germany - I see you are in the UK.

Antabuse is probably the medication you are thinking about but he will have to show willingness to want to address his alcoholism issues and why he started drinking to excess. He has to date shown no real indication that he wants to do this.

geekgirl Sun 29-Jul-07 08:01:22

it's just my mum who is finally talking about it - she told my brother.
What really pisses me off is that my brother and I have asked our mum outright whether our father has an alcohol problem for years, and it has always been cheerfully denied. Why did it have to be left until now?

geekgirl Sun 29-Jul-07 08:03:25

Hi Attilla, yes, the GP is a proper family GP, he does home visits for my mum and was my GP when I was growing up, so he knows us all well. I think I will talk to him when I'm there.

AttilaTheMeerkat Sun 29-Jul-07 08:04:18

NQC has made both a good and important point - has your Dad talked about his drink problem with you or has it been your Mum saying that she's finally realised just how much of an alcohol problem he has.

geekgirl Sun 29-Jul-07 08:05:48

she has spoken about it, and apparently they both know how much of a problem it is and have done for years, but didn't want to tell my brother and me.

chocolateteapot Sun 29-Jul-07 08:08:31

Geekgirl, I don't have any constructive advice but just wanted to say how sorry I am you have this to deal with as well

I do agree with the others about not having him unless he is teetotal. Is there some sort of system a bit like over here where you can have an emergency button to press that gets you help eg. if you have fallen. I know the care your mother needs doesn't really fall under that sort of thing but maybe for emergencies it might help ?

I think I would definitely ring your Mum's GP and see if they can suggest something a) to help the immediate problem of getting your Mum home knowing that she will have back up if your Dad is unable to adminster what she needs and then b) if there is anything else that can be offered to your Dad, if he is prepared to try again.

AttilaTheMeerkat Sun 29-Jul-07 08:11:13

Hi geekgirl,

Re your comment:-
"What really pisses me off is that my brother and I have asked our mum outright whether our father has an alcohol problem for years, and it has always been cheerfully denied. Why did it have to be left until now?"

Your Mum is facing the reality that her time on earth is now short and perhaps wants to set the record straight to you her children. Only the two of them knew though what their married life was really like. The scenario you describe often happens in families where alcoholism is a factor. Denial of the problem, the perceived shame of having an alcoholic in the family and secrecy from same both play a powerful role in such things.

I would seek support for your own self from Al-anon; they can talk to you about all this. I'll put up their number for you.
Alcoholism is a family disease.

MC5 Sun 29-Jul-07 08:12:17


I am so sorry about your mum . What a difficult and upsetting time for you.
I also have an alcoholic father and understand your dilema on how to deal with it. Its very positive that he has admitted his problem and has tried to help himself previously. Mum also had cancer a few years ago and dad drank more and more and more.
My advice to you is to spend as much time as possible with your mum. You probably feel selfish just wanting to be with and help your mum right now but an alcoholic is even more selfish. He has all the time that he needs to confront his addiction and regain his health, your mums time is sadly limited. I would focus your love on your mum and yourself at the moment. I am sorry that it sounds harsh but right now is not the time to be helping him. You cant be there for everybody and I really hope that someone is being there for you.
Do you have siblings to help you?

AttilaTheMeerkat Sun 29-Jul-07 08:16:12

"she hs spoken about it, and apparantly they both know how much of a problem it is and have done for years, but didn't want to tell my brother and me".

I am making no excuses for your Mum at all but she probably acted as she did out of a misguided attempt to protect you from the truth. Again denial of the alcohol problem played a role here, she became his enabler.

AttilaTheMeerkat Sun 29-Jul-07 08:19:29

Al-Anon Family Groups UK & Eire
61 Great Dover Street
Tel: 020 7403 0888 (Helpline 10am - 10pm, 365 days a year)

geekgirl Sun 29-Jul-07 08:20:43

Hello chocolateteapot, that' a good idea re. a panic button. It would be useful anyway as my dad will be back at work eventually so she will be on her own during the day. How are things with you?

MC5, I've got my brother, but he's a bit of an oddball and there has/is always a lot of animosity between him and my dad. He is 9 years older than me and we've never been particularly close - but all this has brought us together really.

geekgirl Sun 29-Jul-07 08:25:29

Attila, thank you very much for that, I will give them a call.
What makes me so angry is that she could have just said 'don't get any beer for when we visit' and then we wouldn't have, for instance. Instead I've always hit the speciality beer shelf buying a selection of micro-brewery offerings before their visits thinking I was doing 'a good thing', you know, getting a few treats for my dad, the beer connoisseur.

MA5 Sun 29-Jul-07 08:29:53

Its so unfair when one child has to take responsibilty for these things.
You have asked for advice for when you see you father. I would make it clear to him that everone needs to focus on your mum right now and give her the love and support that she needs. You all also need to help each other get through this awful time without it being any harder. Tell him that you cant cope with the responsibilty of him and his drink right now but will be willing to help in the future when everyone is able. You and your mums needs go before his.

AttilaTheMeerkat Sun 29-Jul-07 08:32:19

Its not your fault, you weren't to know.

Your Mother chose to keep her knowledge of her husband's alcoholism to herself. If she had indeed said to you, "don't get any beer" you may well have replied, "well why's that?" and thus she could have got drawn into answering questions about something she ultimately did not want to address or face up to. Again her own denial played a powerful role here.

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