Middle-aged woman mulling things over
Middle-aged woman mulling things over

My husband’s grandmother has dementia and accused me of assault – can I skip next family gathering?

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine offers guidance on a difficult family situation.

Fiona Caine
Thursday 13 May 2021 07:30

The problem…

“Last year, just before the pandemic halted all family get-togethers, I went to my husband’s parents’ 50th anniversary party. It was a wonderful time. We had an intimate family dinner, which included us and our children, his brother and sister, and of course their children as well.

“My husband’s grandmother, who was 90 at the time, was also there, and normally this isn’t of any consequence as we’ve always got along so well. When it was over, we all hugged each other goodbye as usual.

“Three days after the event however, I received a call from my mother-in-law, who informed me that her mom had called and spoken to a lawyer. She had accused me and my husband’s brother’s wife of attacking her, claiming we had pushed her and roughed her up so bad that her neck was still aching.

“I felt like someone had kicked me in the gut because I was so shocked that she would falsely accuse us of these things. Her doctor, who she had her lawyer call, explained that she is in the early stages of dementia and all was dropped.

“Next month it’s her birthday, for which she would like all the adults to go to dinner at one of her favourite restaurants. My sister-in-law and I don’t really want to go, as ‘once bitten, twice shy’ seems to apply here. How do we refuse politely, without hurting our mother-in-law’s feelings? She feels this will be one of the last birthdays she will get to spend with her mother.

“Up until this, we were an extremely close-knit family. Now my sister-in-law and I feel we’re forced to keep people at arm’s length, because she took the time to get legal counsel on an event that never happened. Please help us with a politically correct polite answer.”

Fiona says…

“What a terrible thing to have happened – it must have been shocking to have been accused of something like this. It is quite understandable that you and your sister-in-law would be reluctant to be in company with your husband’s grandmother again after this.

Dementia is a cruel illness that also affects everyone around the person with the condition. And while, sadly, some people with the condition are mistreated, hopefully this lady hasn’t been. I’m quite sure you realise that were she not ill, she would be horrified to think she had hurt you in this way.

“As your mother-in-law was the person who told you about the accusations last year, I am sure she would understand that you would be nervous about putting yourself in the same position again. Have you spoken to her since about the incident? If not, I would encourage you both to do so.

“As much as I’m sure she loves her mother, she cannot expect to expose you to a similar incident again. The fact that this get-together is to take place in a public restaurant might make things easier though. Your mother-in-law could arrange to get there first with her mother, and have her seated with people on either side of her.

“Time things so that you and your sister-in-law are the last people to arrive, and that way you won’t be able to get close to her. I would then suggest you arrange to be the first to leave at the end of the meal. Talk all this through with your mother-in-law; I’m sure she will understand.”

If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to help@askfiona.net for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.