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Difficult People

Hi Rabbis,

I’ve had the merit to be able to care for my grandfather who is very old. He is a pleasure to care for and he is so grateful for anything I do. His wife and daughter make me so stressed, and I won’t let that stop me from helping him but it takes away the joy and makes me often leave feeling bad about myself or holding back and about to burst from not expressing anger, or something like that, if they are there.

If I see he is not comfortable, I get him a pillow and ask if he feels better with it now. My grandmother doesn’t let him answer for himself, she shouts at me, “don’t give him that, he was fine!” and I sweetly disobey her because I hear him softly telling me that he wants it and thank you. If I notice he looks not so strong and I ask how he is feeling, my grandmother says “don’t put thoughts in his head, he’s fine”, but again, I ignore her because if he’s not feeling okay it could be a serious thing, and then regardless of what he says, she will say “he feels great, he feels great, why would you make him think he’s nauseous” (he knows he’s nauseous because he was just gagging over a bag, about to throw up, not because I gave him the idea!!). If I ask him, “are you hungry?” she will answer me, “he’s not hungry, he’s fine”, meanwhile, he is hungry. This is SO aggravating because she doesn’t let him speak for himself, and she is usually wrong about what he wants or feels or needs in the moment anyway. It is so hard for me to be around her. I try to remind myself that she loves him and be gentle and sweet, and smile softly and say “I’ll just ask him anyway”, but she provokes me so much and I can’t be that patient all day every day and sometimes I slip up and I just know I’m going to explode on her soon. And it’s not like I’m “usurping” her either, she is not nurturing, and doesn’t want to sit home all day helping him, she likes to be out with her friends all day and doesn’t like taking care of him, she gets annoyed from it, she says. She gets the maid to cook for him, if anything, and doesn’t let me or anyone else, even though he doesn’t even like the maid’s food!

Then her daughter is just like her, but in some ways worse. We try to keep him moving every day. I will do physical therapy or walk with him. She walks with him sometimes too. On the days we do therapy, he is tired and should not also be walking, but she pushes him to regardless of the fact that he says he’s too tired and doesn’t want to do double the exercise. He doesn’t want conflict so he doesn’t insist, but he comes in looking like he will faint. Even the days without therapy when she just takes him walking she takes him beyond a healthy limit. The other day I joined them, and he was looking tired so I said “how are you feeling, do you want to turn back?” and he said “yes, I’m about at that point”, but she said “no, no he doesn’t feel tired, I know when he’s tired. No, we’ll walk another block”. He said “okay” not to argue and I didn’t say any more, but then on the way home, she pushed him to keep extending himself so much that he was gasping and couldn’t physically get up to the house. This is a 96 year old, not a teenager! She doesn’t see it though. He almost fell a few times! But she proudly walked into the house “he walked 12 blocks!” – I don’t understand what she’s thinking- who cares how many blocks he walked if he’s going to pass out! It’s not healthy to be at the point of needing serious help lifting him over the last block. In the past I’ve tried to be sweet and say “I feel like maybe it’s too much to push him in certain ways” and no matter what I say or what examples I give, or how persistent I am, she has a like a metaphorical “cover” over her eyes and no reasoning ability, and just says “no its great, it’s great” like truly she has no handle on reality. I don’t know what my obligation is. I want to help him, but she won’t listen to me anyway, no matter what I say or what reasons I give, so should I still be forceful, knowing I’ll be ignored anyway, or just keep quiet and let her do what she wants to him and hope God continues to take care of him?

I help him balance his check book and pay his bills, because he ASKS me to, and I never take it away from him, but I do it with him so he feels involved. I try to be sensitive of the fact that he was once able and enjoyed doing it himself. However, in the last year or so he noticed he was making mistakes with calculating and paying bills so he asked me to do it with him. I try to be sensitive and I don’t tell him if he makes mistakes adding, I just quietly correct it in the book. I ask him questions about where things go all the time, even though I know the system by now and can file his things without help. etc etc. But my aunt seems to almost resent that I help him. She says to him “since your office work was taken from you”, or tells me, “his office work was Taken from him”. I’m sick of her comments, so I finally said “I did not TAKE anything, he asks for help and I do it WITH him, not instead of him”, but she doesn’t hear anything I say. It seems like she enjoys making little digs at me.

Normally I try to avoid situations and people that provoke me if I don’t feel strong enough to master my response, but I can’t avoid them if I want to take care of him, and I’m so happy I have the chance to be able to help him. I just wish every single thing I said or did wasn’t an issue for them to try to argue about and I wish that I didn’t feel nervous that they could cause him to be hurt. I love the rare days that I don’t encounter either one of them, but I usually encounter at least one if not both of them daily. It is very hard to have the self-control not to scream at them both. Do you have any advice for what I can say, if anything at all, or what I should do?

I know this is very long. Thank you so much for your time and help with this.




Before addressing your question’ let me express my deep respect for what you are doing for your elderly grandfather. It is a tremendous mitzva, besides for kibbud av v’em, it is also caring for a sick person, who largely can’t help himself anymore.

Regarding what you wrote, it isn’t possible to give an really accurate answer without hearing what your grandmother or aunt have to say. Having said that, from what you are writing it is evident that you are quite challenged by the situation. From what you are describing, it seems that your grandmother is not terribly interested in caring for your grandfather, or is too tired to deal with it, and is trying to play it down and ignore it. You on the other hand, you feel for your grandfather and want to help him with all your heart and soul.

It seems that the services that you are providing for your grandfather are really helping him and he appreciates it, and you should continue doing it. Regarding how to handle your grandmother, it sounds like what you are doing is great! Try staying under the radar, do whatever you can when she isn’t looking, or do it quietly, as not to raise her attention.

The Chofetz Chaim write that a person working and giving to others should not be discouraged by complaints, etc., but instead to think that the complaints, and the difficulties that are being raised are going to cause the reward for the mitzva to be multiplied tremendously. Additionally, when a person does a mitzva which will give the person that it really important, the yetzer hora gets all alarmed, and therefore tries to put things in the way to try to stop you from doing this tremendous mitzva. Get energy from the thought that you are doing what Hashem wants you to do, and that Hashem loves you for what you are doing.

It might help, to tell your grandmother at some point, not when she is arguing with you, or stopping you from something, but when you are schmoozing. Something along the lines that she would also want to be given the best care as possible You might consider saying something like “Im Yirtza Hashem you should also live until 120, but when you will be 118, you will also appreciate, being made as comfortable as as possible”. This way you are helping her relate to your grandfather’s difficulties more realistically. Needless to say, you have to know your grandmother’s temperament, and if she will take such a statement in a positive way or not.

Regarding your aunt, the fact that she is working him too hard, will be hard to change. If your grandfather has a physical therapist, you can and her if the amount of exercise he is doing is too much or not. As far as the snide remarks and the digs, that she is giving you, it is very frustrating to be subject to this abuse. It is best however to just ignore them, and not to answer her when she says such comments, because that will cause a fight. You should just know that when a person is insulted, and doesn’t answer back, that it is tremendous time for you to daven for any specific thing that you need. There are numerous stories of how this is an es ratzon, in the zechus of your keeping your mouth closed.

Another idea, which is different that the previous one. If you find a time that you are having a nice conversation with your aunt, (not when you are arguing about something, etc.) you can underhandedly insert somewhere into that conversation that, that you have a “friend” (“of course, you don’t mean her”) who like to underhandedly dig into other people, and make comments to subtly hurt the other person. The person is a good person, but you hate when she does that to you. Then go on to another subject, as if you weren’t talking about her at all. This might give her the hint that what she is saying to you is hurtful. (Try this only if you think you can play the game correctly giving any hints that you mean her, or that you are angry at her for this.)

Hashem should give you the strength to continue the big mitzva that you are doing.

Best wishes

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