My Drug Addict Family Member and the Witching Hour

My Drug Addict Family Member and the Witching Hour January 24, 2014


I called it the Witching Hour.

Toddlers melt down at around 5pm every single day. This fact is well known to stay at home moms and other peculiar people who spend a great deal of time with little children.

Just about the time you are up to your elbows in getting supper on the table, the babies start cranking out tantrums, whines, arguments and fights. It’s as if someone put crazy drugs in their afternoon snackies.

Nobody told me about the Witching Hour. Like so much about raising little children, I had to learn it the hard way. But once I got it figured out and took the This-is-gonna-happen-so-put-your-foot-down-and-slide attitude, it became manageable.

I thought I was through with all that when my kids grew out of it.

But I find that I am once again caring for a toddler, and the Witching Hour is back. This particular toddler is approaching 90 years of age and has a random memory of having once been an independent, free-wheeling adult. She remembers that she once paid her bills, balanced her check book and fought all my battles.

She is my mother, and I love her so much it makes my teeth ache.

The Witching Hour evidently applies to elderly toddlers as much as it does baby toddlers. Every day at about 5 my mother melts down. She doesn’t roll on the floor and wail the way babies can do. Her tantrums take the form of hand-wringing anxiety and fear. If she doesn’t find something to hang this anxiety and fear on, I can distract her out of it. But thanks to the the occasional slip-up, or, more often, the family drug addict who has no conscience about ripping off her elderly grandmother, there are days this becomes impossible.

One day this week, my mother found a bill from her latest hospital stay. How she got it, I don’t know. Everyone in the family works at keeping anything that will set her off away from her. We censor her mail by lifting the bills and any advertising that looks like something she might think was a threat (she’s amazingly creative at interpreting advertising as threats) and only letting her see the harmless stuff.

For years, I wanted to end her subscription to the newspaper. Every time they said something nasty about me (there are spells where that can be an almost daily occurrence) she would warp out. I kept telling her that I didn’t care and it was fine, but she is my mother and … well … you know.

Somehow, despite our almost paranoid vigilance, she got her hands on this $35 bill from the hospital. And she warped out. It took forever for me to pry the fact that this was about a bill out of her.

We’re in a horrible mess, she kept repeating. They’re going to take everything. 

When I asked her who “they” was, she would say, I don’t know. 

When I asked her what she was talking about, she would say, I don’t know. 

She cried and begged me to take care of it. PLEASE take care of it. 

I finally figured out it was a bill. My son took it and tore it into tiny pieces, which is pretty much the way we all felt about the thing.

I was so shot by the experience I wanted to go somewhere and just curl up in a little ball. When my mother cries like that, it rips me into as many pieces as my son did that bill.

Then, yesterday, she came to me in tears, almost vibrating with fear. We’re in a horrible mess. 

The house (meaning her home where she no longer lives) is in a shambles. Those people (meaning my drug addict relative) have trashed it and now it’s on us to fix it or the government will tear it down. 

 She was crying as if her heart was broken, and scared out of what remains of her wits. We went through another round of 20 questions and I slowly pieced together that she’d gotten a call from a bill collector over yet another fraudulent bill that the family drug addict has run up in my mother’s name.

The house, so far as I could tell, was fine.

This bill-collector-calling-about-things-the family-drug-addict-has-done-in-my-elderly-mother’s-name-thing happens fairly often.

For instance, about a week ago, I got a call from the adult day care center where Mama goes while the rest of us are at work, telling me that she’d been on the phone, giving out information to somebody. When the staff person took the phone and said this lady has dementia, who are you the caller got snotty with them. I dropped everything and went to the day care center, took Mama’s phone and called the number back.

When I got the caller on the line, they wouldn’t tell me who they were, even though I have power of attorney where my mother is concerned. It’s been a long time since I’ve been that angry. I mean, these people called and hounded an elderly woman who obviously has dementia at her day care center, and then would not tell the responsible party who they were.

After a round of me losing my temper totally with them, it turned out that they were trying to collect a debt for thousands of dollars somebody has hung on my elderly mother. I don’t know for sure, but if this isn’t more handiwork by the family drug addict, I’ll be surprised.

The Witching Hour is so common that the people at the day care center have their own name for it. They call it “sun downing.”

I don’t know if it’s just about end-of-the-day tiredness, or if there’s some sort of hormonal change that occurs in our bodies at that time of day. All I know is that people at both ends of life get upset and bothered around 5pm.

If there is no call from a bill collector or threatening advertising or some paper bill that slipped into her hands by mistake, my mother just tends to spin webs at this time of day. She’s cranky and she wants what she wants, which is my attention. But she doesn’t fall apart on me.

However, if anything slips through the net we put around her, she goes out on us.

The family drug addict’s parasitical behavior is by far the most difficult for me to tolerate. Everyone else in the family works together to care for and protect my mother. Then we’ve got the family drug addict out there, trying to prey on her and actively hurting and upsetting her.

I don’t know exactly why I’m writing all this. Maybe because I am worn slick with it today (I’ve had two really emotional Witching Hours back to back.) and I need to talk about it.

I do know this, and it’s a surprise to me to learn it. Taking care of an elderly parent is, if it’s a family enterprise and you have wonderful services such as Adult Day Care, surprisingly do-able. But when one member of the family decides to become an extra burden, they can wreak havoc.

I am privileged to be able to take care of my mother. I am also blessed to have sons who, even as young men in their twenties, are completely willing to care for her, too. I see them do this, and I feel vindicated as a parent. I raised two wonderful, loving men.

As for the family drug addict, I am at my wit’s end.

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34 responses to “My Drug Addict Family Member and the Witching Hour”

  1. I have an eighty year old mother who has similar issues, especially with bills. Since she can’t read English well, I usually take them and take care of them myself. I dread her watching a lot of TV news because it does get her unnecessarily riled up. I’ve never noticed it as coming at a particular time of day. My mother has long had anxiety issues and takes some medication for it, Celexa if you’re interested. God bless. Taking care of an elderly parent does require time, but as you say it is also a privilidge.

    • Thanks Manny. We’ve tried an anti-depressant — zoloft — it works for the anxiety, but she becomes combative with it. Actually took a swing at my son a few times. That’s kind of funny, my five foot potato chip weight mother, swinging at my 6’4″ son. But we had to stop it. She might fall down and hurt herself. 🙂

  2. What you have shared with us regarding your mother has caused me to wonder if that is my future with my husband. I just hope I can deal with it as gracefully as you and your family are doing, though for sure, it is stressful and complicated. Thank you for sharing your situation with us. You are indeed a caring and loving daughter who has raised 2 sons that reflect their upbringing. Our children are here, so I have help, but they have lives too, and I hate to call on them too much.

  3. One thing you need to do right now: Change momma’s cell phone number. Do NOT give it to the FDA.

    Second thing you need to do: Lock her credit. Lifelock or some other similar company. Set it on highest security- make sure they call you for so much as a credit inquiry. Don’t let FDA in by changing Momma’s info to something she doesn’t know.

    I don’t know what to do about Sundowner Syndrome/Witching Hour- but just because FDA is family doesn’t mean that Identity Theft Protection Measures do not apply.

    • “Sundowning” is a typical problem with dementia and Alzheimer’s patients where confusion and agitation occur during the late afternoon/early evening (hence the name “sundowning”. There is very little that can be done about it other than to try and keep the individual on a regularized sleep routine that they’re comfortable with, limit caffeine to mornings only, and make sure they’re not taking overly long naps during the day (a nap shouldn’t exceed 20 minutes).

      Your advice about the credit and locking it is spot on.

  4. That’s rough. 🙁 Is there some kind of task or craft you can give her to do?

    Also, are there any legal steps you can take against the family drug addict (along the lines of a restraining order)?

    • She’s pretty tired by that time of day and would have trouble with a task. My trouble with the drug addict is that I can’t make myself do anything to her. She’s been in prison for drugs already and that didn’t help. It’s a mess.

  5. Oh
    yes. My mother in law is 95; she becomes obsessed and convinced we are
    all going to get angry and ignore her if she, for example, losses
    her sunglasses. (“No, Mama, we don’t care about them. They were just
    glasses we got in a store. We can get you new ones if we can’t locate
    them.”) Or she’ll be convinced that she is going to lose everything.
    (“No, mama, that illegal phone call was a solicitation.
    You can just hang up on them.”) Or The Bank is going to take everything
    away – the house, her savings, everythingh. It will all be taken
    away and there is nothing anyone can do about it. (“No, mama. It’s
    your money and you have no debt at all. They can’t just take your
    money. They would get in a lot of trouble.”) Or someone in the family
    will have go to jail for some imagined reason, and it should be her
    because her life is almost over. (“No, mama. We had auto insurance,
    and even though your grandson was responsible
    for the very minor auto accident, we don’t have to worry about it.
    That’s why we have insurance. And they wouldn’t let you go to jail for
    him anyway, it doesn’t work that way.”) Once we can get her reassured
    that everything’s fine, it’s manageable. But it can take her a really
    long time to be reassured. She’s living in an independent living
    facility because she can still care for herself, we are blessed in that
    regard. I can’t imagine the level of frustration and anger you must
    feel towards the drug addict. Yes, I know family is family, but your
    mother is your mother. I keep you, your mother
    and your family – including the drug addict – in my prayers, Rebecca.

  6. Don’t forget to put her numbers on the do-not-call list.

    We got a call out of the blue saying I owed money on an old Mastercard account. My husband almost gave a credit card number to pay it because he was worried about our credit. It turned out that I didn’t owe anything because I never had the account to begin with. Somehow a bill collector got it and started hounding us. I read that fake collector companies call random people hoping they will pay because they are scared.

    God bless all of you. Tough situation.

  7. My mother went through that as well. It tended to be worse if she was in a hospital or nursing home rehab, like daily worse. (She would in her worst moments accuse everyone of murder or trying to murder her.) When she was at home, it ran to once a week or so. In her case, she turned psychotic, yelling, screaming words I didn’t think she knew, occasionally hitting. Fortunately, she couldn’t move out of her chair or it would have been much, much worse. And unlike you, I was her sole caregiver, Talk about draining! She died nearly 5 years ago. Oddly, near the end, she reverted in the few minutes she was awake to a sweet child. I still miss her. Oddly, Dad who slid into dementia over a ten year period after a stroke didn’t have sundowner’s. His worse moments would come only if I tried to get him out of bed before noon (yes, literally noon). So, I just let him sleep until then.
    I would suggest that you do not allow your mother near a phone at home and especially not at day care or any other facility. I would also make certain that she does not have access to any mail or newspapers unless you or your husband screen it first. And if there’s any chance of it bothering her, get rid of it. As for the newspaper, I suspect that if you just stop it, she’d probably not even notice.

  8. Your patience with the family drug addiction astounds me. For me, even if jail hadn’t worked before, I’d try again, lol, not so much to help her as to get her out of the way. One family hardship at a time, if it can be helped, eh?

    Anyway, I’ve got no advice. I was raised alongside my sisters, one of whom is profoundly mentally handicapped. My mother is heroic. I will pray for you and yours, Ms. H.

  9. One thing you may not have thought of: Don’t let her watch Fox News. Their news is overblown and will probably upset her. I live in a retirement community and some of the people here watch Fox News almost religiously. They are the ones who are always upset, fearing the worst and edging towards dementia if they are already not in it.

    • Does not matter what cable news channel a dementia patient watches. Just think how upsetting it is to somebody who grew up in the morality of the 1930s, 1940s, or 1950s to realize that Divorce, War, Euthanasia, Abortion, and the Death Penalty, things their generation fought against, are all now completely rampant. Especially if they can’t remember the intervening 60 years or so.

  10. You have been, as someone else mentioned, remarkably patient with the family drug addict. But that addict is committing several crimes against your mother from property and identity theft to elder abuse. Additionally, they are exposing her to abuse from outside parties particularly those bill collectors, many of whom do not follow the law and resort to threatening and intimidating tactics to collect. It is past time to stage an intervention on your family drug addict and also time to take legal action against them. Frankly, I don’t care if “the family drug addict’s” behavior affects them. They can do what they want to their own bodies. But I firmly believe they do not have the right to wreck havoc on family members like your mother who are defenseless against them.

  11. i am overwhelmed at your honesty and your perseverance and unconditional love in the face of the challenges you are confronting.

    The only advice that I can offer is that you should seriously consider the suggestions offered by the other commenters and take action where appropriate. What I can offer is what Pope Francis called the First Proclamation in the Joy of the Gospel: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen, and free you.”

    You, your mother, and your FDA are in my prayers.

    God bless.

  12. I sympathize with you cause I know that It is not easy taking care of senior parents while working in the Witching Hour. I speak from experience cause my father died at an early old age because of cancer and also suffered with dementia. It broke all of our hearts when we put him in a senior’s home for a week but after I saw my dad crying for the first time and long story short, with the help of our city we all pulled together and God Bless his soul, he died at home.

    As for my mother, God Bless her soul and I must agree with Manny when he says in so many words that it is not easy at least for me cause even though I was an executor working the Witching Hour was terrible cause our mother loved us all so much and with her picture above my computer, I must still say that working the Witching Hour especially as an executor only made it worst. Let’s just say that longer story shorter, while working all together, our mother lived till a mouth short of 87 years and she enjoyed the company of many great grandchildren not to mention the rest who knew her well.

    I’ll close by saying that It’s not easy and I’m sure that it was even worst in the past for our ancestors but for what it is worth, we’ll all be praying for you. Right Manny? 🙂

    God Bless

  13. God bless you. I found it helped to keep my (dementia suffering) parents away from the windows at sunset. They saw their own reflections and thought it was their parents/relatives/neighbors/enemies out there on the front porch looking in at them.

    Close the drapes before it gets dark. Turn up all the lights in the house and put on “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and try to distract them. That worked pretty well for us.

    For a while…

    Because the really hard part is understanding that just when you get one problem under control – another pops up. Because it is like childhood in reverse… they just keep losing abilities and you are always caught off-base by their new limitations. Just hang in there and keep praying.

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