My father's cousin is apparently destitute and a little crazy

I got a call from my mother this afternoon. Apparently father’s cousin (we’ll call him Bob) has been leaving messages on their answering machine occasionally for about 6 months now saying that he needs financial support. He’s in his early-to-mid 70s (as are my parents) and doesn’t have any other relatives – he never married, his parents are both long dead, and his brother died unexpectedly about 20 years ago. My parents haven’t seen him in the 20 years since his brother’s funeral – they send him a Christmas card every year, but other than that there’s been no contact.

My mother told me that they’ve ignored his phone messages, which to me seems kind of cold – he is family after all, but whatever. But apparently he left a message today saying that he was destitute but that he “found” some money on a Mastercard (which I take to mean he found some available credit that he didn’t know he had) and he had booked a flight to Boston (where my parents live) and got a reservation at the hotel, and when he got there he’d call them and they could pick him up. He left this is a message – he hasn’t actually talked to them (although not for lack of trying on his part – I guess he felt desperate). He also said something about Amazon owing him royalties on a book of his, which doesn’t make much sense. It’s not clear what he was expecting them to do once they picked him up – take care of him, I guess.

Anyway, my mom called him back, and didn’t get a hold of him, and left him a message saying “do not come to Boston, we can’t take care of you” or words to that effect. But she was panicked that he’d come anyway. As we were talking on the phone, Bob called again, so she hung up on me to take his call, and I guess was able to tell him in person not to come, and I guess he agreed. I’m wondering if this whole “flying to Boston” thing was a bluff in order to actually get my parents on the phone – if so, it sure worked.

My parents asked me what they should do, and I haven’t the foggiest. Even if they had the means to help him, which they really don’t, I don’t think they’d be interested in helping anyway. I’m kind of worried that he may try to hurt himself, but it also may be garden variety attention seeking. I suggested getting together with my father’s siblings (he’s one of five, and they’re all still alive) to see what everyone else thought – but I’m not even sure what the options are. Is there someone they can call where he lives (somewhere in Illinois) to kind of check in on him? I don’t think it’s a matter for the police, but maybe some kind of social service could do a well visit? Like I said, it’s not clear to me where his mind his – if he’s suicidal or just attention seeking – I don’t want to needlessly alarm anyone or butt in where I don’t belong, but it feels like I should do something. Any thoughts?

I’m confused - you say Bob “doesn’t have any other relatives” but you are thinking of suggesting that your dad discuss the problem with his siblings. If Bob is your father’s cousin, isn’t he also cousins with your father’s siblings?

Yes, sorry, my bad. I meant no other close relatives – no wife, parents, children, brothers or sisters. As far as I know his only relatives at all are my father and his four siblings, but I don’t think they’ve had any more contact with him than my father has. I could be wrong about that, though – that’s why I suggested they get together and talk. For all I know he could have been making the same calls to the other four as well.

He may also be experiencing advancing dementia of some kind. If there is a public Agency on Aging in his area, they might have some ideas if the sibling group discuss it and think it merits following up on. In my state these Agencies on Aging are groups of counties. All kinds of social services, nutrition services, legal and financial advice, fitness & health, transportation and recreation services.

Your mom should stop all communication with him. Your dad should do all the talking. Anyone getting in the middle is just going to make for a messier situation.

ETA: Oops. Didn’t understand the sibling situation. If Dad has four siblings, then a family meeting needs to be held to figure out what to do about Bob.

The OP’s father has four siblings. According to the OP, Bob’s sole sibling died.

nelliebly is correct. Sorry if that was unclear.

Small update: My mother talked to one of my father’s brothers, who said that he had not heard from Bob, and thanked my mother for not giving Bob his number. She’s going to call one of my father’s sisters later. She is apparently not going to bring it up with my father’s other two siblings, for reasons that are not totally clear to me. “Oh, they won’t know what to do” is what she said when I pressed her on this. You may get feeling that my family is not the tightest-knit. That’s a fair assessment.

I like BippityBoppityBoo’s suggestion – I’m going to pass that along.

Thanks for the responses!

OP, kudos to you for your concern for Bob. I agree with BippityBoppityBoo that a call to the local Council on Aging would be a place to start. However, before that happens, The Cousins (your dad and siblings) should talk with Bob first to get more information. Does he get social security money? Is he in danger of eviction? Has he been evaluated by a doctor? And most important, does he recognize his own mental health issues?

If he doesn’t recognize he’s having issues (IIRC, about 20% of people with dementia don’t.) AND nobody has a medical/financial POA, the situation becomes more complex. It’d be helpful to know all this before contacting the Council on Aging.

COA’s seem to vary a great deal in the services they offer. Some are wonderful. My sister’s COA (Louisiana) offered very limited services and few resources. If that’s the case in your area, The Cousins might consider pooling funds to contact an eldercare attorney (one appointment, by phone, with attorney in Bob’s state) to find out what the options are.

I hope The Cousins will pursue this. They don’t have to take on his care, send him money, or move him in, just try to ensure that down the road, he’s not living on the street soaked in his own urine.

Update, in case anyone is following along. My father talked to my sister, and she suggested they call the police in the town where Bob lives and have them do a welfare check on him. My mother made the call (Dad doesn’t like talking on the phone), explained the situation in detail, and asked if they would check on him. Later this morning, my mother got a call from Bob – he said that police had come by the house, and asked him (Bob) to call her to let her know that he was not moving to Boston. My mother asked him why he was coming, and he said he just wanted to talk to my father, that his plan was to fly back afterwards. (He hadn’t mentioned the “fly back” part of his plan earlier, which is what panicked my parents.) In that light he sounds less crazy – he had obviously been trying to get in touch with my father, and my father was not calling him back, so maybe he felt like he needed to see him in person. But he said he’s fine, he’s not coming to Boston, and that was all he had to say about it and said goodbye and hung up. I asked my mother if my father was going to talk to him, and she said probably not, and that she was taking him (Bob) off of her Christmas card distribution list. I really think my father should give him a call – I’ll try to talk to him later (assuming I can get him on the phone :slight_smile: ).

One last bit – in the call he also mentioned to my mother that he had written another book that he was going to sell on Amazon. Curious this time, I searched for him on Amazon, and sure enough, I found his book. The description and “about the author” are nuts – it’s clear he self-published the book and wrote the description itself. There’s one review, and it’s one-star. I’d link to it, but I don’t want to ridicule him, plus I’m not sure if linking to an Amazon item violates this board’s rules. (I am certainly not encouraging anyone to buy it.)

It sounds like OP’s Dad is very avoidant. OP’s Mom should not be being the main communicator here; that role should fall to Bob’s other cousins if OP’s Dad is not up to it. Ideally after all 5 of the sibs get on the phone / Zoom together and make a collectively acceptable plan.

But “should” is often not what happens.

If ultimately none of the 5 cousins care enough to do anything but change the subject (or change their phone numbers), then Bob is on is own. You OP or your Mom, can call the cops as you’ve done and Bob’s county eldercare agency by whatever name. And that’s about it.

70 yos like your parents and Dad’s sibs & their spouses, don’t make good intervenors. There’s not enough practical ability to take action even if there is the willingness and the dollars. And right now it sounds like willingness is in very short supply with dollars not much better.

I know a couple who went through something similar at a similar age with the wife’s brother, not cousin. Between alcohol, mild craziness, and encroaching senility, plus a dose of poverty, hoarderism, and living in a rotting tiny old house out in the “self-reliant” countryside, this guy was impossible to help on terms he was willing to accept. Despite my friends living comfortably nearby in the suburban part of the same county.

They eventually had to wash their hands of the situation to maintain their own sanity. They involved all the relevant county authorities who took notes and made a few visits, but were never able to muster the oomph to institutionalize the guy against his will, nor deliver any effective assistance on terms he was willing to accept.

Though whether institutionalizing the guy would have been a kindness or a torture is a legitimately unanswerable question.

In any case, a couple years later he died. Apparently froze to death after failing to pay the heating bill. In the midst of horrendous filth & degradation with little food but plenty of booze around the wreckage of the house.

I’d met him at their family holiday get-togethers in earlier happier days. He started out a decent soul and lived a productive life. Until he didn’t.

If everyone involved in the OP's case is semi-estranged from everyone else then Bob is pretty well destined to fall through the cracks of the already mostly cracked-apart family. And the government is barely there to sweep up the debris. As was the case in the story I just told.

This happens to tens of thousands of Americans every year.

Probably even more.

Sadly, a lot of times people see this sort of situation, and say, “This person had living relatives who let it get this bad? They must be horrible people.”

You can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped.


The real problem is that these situations form slowly over 20 or 30 years before maturing. Then when the family wakes up, or in Bob’s case he cries for help, it’s often too far gone to practically repair.

Here at my condo I’ve dealt with 3 of these maturing situations in the last year. With family interventions ranging from early and often to little avail, to last-ditch, to “we found them dead in a pile of filth”.

Given the Bob is asking for help (unlike my friend’s brother), his situation may well be savable, or at least improvable. Not knowing how “nuts” the guy is, that may make helping either impossible or just more pain / trouble than the family can absorb.

I hope we’ll hear back from the OP. Although from the most recent post it sounds like they probably sorta shot the wad on this and the next action will be Bob doing something a few weeks or months from now.

I have an online friend. Several years ago he lost his job in IT. I’m not sure what he did, but anyway, lost his job. Then lost his home, because he didn’t find a new job. He didn’t seem very motivated to look hard. He moved in with his aging mother. He eventually got a job as a cashier at Target. Still living with his mother. Now, recently, he lost his Target job. He fully admits he was at fault, although he hasn’t said what he did. From what I know of the guy, it’s unlikely to be theft, or anything like that. But my friend is gay, and has gotten himself banned from college football games for taking zoom closeups of players rear ends. He’s made inappropriate remarks at times. I wouldn’t be surprised if he made someone at work uncomfortable.

Anyway, here he is, just about 60. Living with his mother. He hasn’t found anything else in the couple months since he was fired from Target. Some day his mother won’t be around to support him. He has siblings, but I doubt they’ll want to take him in. I’m sure he probably is suffering from depression, if not other mental illnesses. I’m guessing at this point, he can hope his mother lives until he can collect social security. Filing for disability would probably be his best bet.

There’s no real safety net for guys like these, who can’t seem to manage life on their own.


Boston isn’t his kind of town, anyway.