Dear Carolyn: My ex-husband and I have been divorced for about 10 years. Our kids are grown and in their 20s and 30s. My ex and I still live in the same town we raised our kids in, but only one kid still lives here.
Our marriage had some happy times and I don't wish my ex ill will at all. I make an effort for milestone events for our children to be as smooth as possible for the kids. But for the last five years of our marriage, my husband was an alcoholic who verbally and emotionally abused me, so I do not wish to spend time with him alone.
He was recently given a diagnosis for a terminal illness related to alcoholism. Our kid who lives locally asked me to help with his care, mostly driving to appointments and visiting him and running errands. He will always be my kids' father and we shared some wonderful times together. But I'm not sure I want to, or can, spend this much time with him one-on-one. I'm trying to decide what to do, and it feels like there are no good options.
Ex: This weight is going to fall hard on your kid who still lives in town, much harder than it will on the siblings just by accident of geography — so while I’m comfortable saying you have zero obligation to help out your ex-abuser, I also think it’s worth sorting through the possibilities for helping out.
Find the ones that allow you to assume parts of your child’s burden that don’t cost you your soul. Running errands? You can do that. Not with your ex, but on your own with a list, sure. Visiting him? Nope. Driving him somewhere? Maybe, maybe not, depending — but can you arrange rides? Taxi, Uber/Lyft? Can you tap any public resources for people with health problems? Can you get someone to ride along with you as a buffer? Can you arrange a swap with someone who has a similar toxic (ex-) relative — kind of a “Strangers on a Train” except with carpooling instead of murder?
Anyway. When someone asks you for help, it is always your prerogative to say no, especially when saying yes would involve pushing healthy boundaries. But I don’t think it will be a source of regret if you at least stop to do some Venn-diagramming of ways to help your kid that keep your health intact.
Re: Ex: There are several additional options: hire a caregiver to handle the doctor appointments and hospital visits; hire a case manager to handle the medical care issues for the ex-spouse; ask the siblings of the local kid to help out when they come visiting or to chip in for the caregiver's or the case manager's cost; find and obtain the services of the local social services agency to handle the terminally ill dad (it's funded by your tax money to your state and county); find and obtain similar services offered by the clergy of the ex's faith.