The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Carolyn Hax: Caregiver is publicly blamed for father-in-law’s death

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
3 min

Adapted from an online discussion.

Carolyn: My beloved father-in-law came to live with me and my husband in the last year of his life. He was mentally perfect but physically failing, and made all of his own medical decisions until a week before he died. Because of a layoff, I ended up being his caregiver — taking him to the doctor, etc. His daughter chose to interact with him by phone but not to visit, which didn’t change when he moved in with us. After he died, we had a funeral and all was sad but well.

Months later, at Thanksgiving at our house, my sister-in-law announced to my sisters and assorted family that I killed my father-in-law because I didn’t aggressively make him do things he specifically did not want to do, therefore somehow not keeping him alive.

Stunned expressions and silence, as you can imagine, ensued.

Since then, we’ve had limited interactions with her. But I’ve come to find out that my sister-in-law has been posting, nonstop, on Facebook that I killed my father-in-law. Nonstop. I only know this because one of my sisters mentioned it — neither my husband nor I uses Facebook. We’re stumped. Do we confront her about this or just let it be?

— Accused

Accused: Wow.

My first thought was to leave her to howl into her own abyss. Like, what she’s saying and doing is so bat-nuts that it doesn’t warrant a response. You also have the ability to block it out; not being on Facebook conveniently insulates you from the impulse to react.

I thought I might change my mind after I had some time to think about it, and I have changed it, but not dramatically: I think it’s important for your husband to (try to) get in touch with her to say the obvious, that her behavior is not only severely out of line but also deeply concerning. I just don’t expect that to change anything.

When other people raise the sister-in-law’s behavior with you, try, “Thanks, we’re aware, and we’re worried about her.” Sounds like it’s time to be.

If people buy into her lunacy to the point there are consequences for you, then talk to an attorney.

Tell us: What's your favorite Carolyn Hax column about love?

Readers’ thoughts:

· This kind of incessantly irrational behavior is really worrisome. I suspect some kind of mixture of guilt and grief is fueling it, but not only is it unfair and defamatory to you, it would also suggest to me that the sister-in-law is in real need of help. Does she have anyone else in her life — spouse, children, good friends, other siblings, etc. — to whom your husband could talk? I’d worry she might become a danger, to others or to herself.

· If it is any comfort, I don’t know of any sane person who would read this kind of a post on Facebook and believe it, you know? I think far more people would think “Wow, the sister-in-law is having a really hard time with this.”

· I see enormous guilt on part of the sister-in-law for not being there for her dying father. The letter-writer was there for her father-in-law. Maybe not much comfort for Accused, but perhaps it may help explain the Facebook behavior.