The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Carolyn Hax: ‘Toxic’ dad dumped the work of mom’s hospice on others. Is this the last straw?

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
3 min

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: I took sort of a break from my father after my mom died because of the way he treated me during her hospice. I live close to them and was glad to help out, since my father could do nothing for my mom, saying he didn’t have it in him. It was mainly on me, sometimes my aunt and the hospice nurses. I asked my brother to visit and help out, and he and his girlfriend came and treated it like a vacation. They never stayed with my mom for more than a few minutes. When I’d asked him to do anything to help, like wash his own sheets, even he would ignore me and my dad would say it was his vacation and couldn’t I just do it.

My dad never thought about me, working full time, and spending every night at their house. My aunt was my only relief in those days.

I hadn't seen him much the year after that because of the pandemic. We finally met at my aunt's house. I tried talking to him about how he treated me and at first he denied it, but when my aunt backed me up, he said he was grieving and had a good reason for doing that “if he really did.” He made me the bad guy for even bringing it up.

I was crushed and haven’t spoken to him much since then. Is there any reason not to cut my toxic father out of my life entirely?

— Crushed

Crushed: Since I can’t really answer that — only you know of any reasons, in the end, and the greater historical context — I’m going to answer a different question … by asking you one. (I’m also not trying to be cute about it, I’m sorry):

Is there any reason to make a final decision about this?

You can continue, as you have done, to decide as you go whether there's room in your current moment for a relationship with your dad. The next call, you can decide whether you feel like answering it. The next call you screen, you can decide whether to call back or text him or just not respond. The next text, you can decide whether to respond, ignore, delete, block.


For sure, this can be exhausting. It's one tough decision after another.

But you can also treat this as temporary while you wait for the “right,” bigger decision to come to you.

Since you're asking, it sounds as if you're close but not quite there. That's okay, nothing wrong with not being sure, and it's okay not to force yourself to decide once and for all.

Therapy might be helpful as you process this. Especially since your brother's behavior suggests there's a family pattern here, of entitled men dumping on the women of the family (you're female, yes?), and you've spent a lifetime on the wrong end of it.

I'm sorry about your mom.

Re: Cutting ties: When the abuser is a spouse or significant other, it’s “Red flags! Run!” When the abuser is a parent, sibling, or child, it’s “Reconcile or you’ll regret it!” You don’t have to reconcile with an abuser, whatever the relationship.

— Anonymous

Anonymous: No no, that guilt trip isn’t coming from me. I support thoughtful estrangement from those who are hazardous to our health.

To be fair: These are apples and oranges. Partners involve shared beds, homes, finances, property, often children — and the others can stop at “Do I visit my parent/sibling/child for Christmas?” So even prioritizing self-protection, it’s not always wrong to treat them differently.

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