Thena's story about her parents' friend who had everyone over for her birthday but didn't provide food reminded me of this story. I've been wanting to get this off my chest for awhile.
Now, please understand that I totally understand that the hostess in this instance was going through an extremely difficult time. That is the only reason we were as gracious as we were.
This happened immediately after my FIL died. DH's parents divorced over 40 years ago, and he remarried "Sally" a few years later. They had two sons. We had a decently cordial relationship with FIL and Sally. FIL became very ill about a year ago and was in and out of ICU for months. Sally, meanwhile, has always had some mental health issues that got much worse. She got incredibly erratic, and a manipulative streak I'd always sensed was there became much more pronounced. FIL finally passed away, and the few weeks before the funeral Sally had to be hospitalized for her mental issues.
So, Sally had a milestone birthday a few days after the funeral. We had planned on doing something for her as soon as she was up to it, but she called DH the day before her birthday and insisted that we come to the house for lunch the next day. She was still hospitalized, and she gets terribly stressed out when she tries to do any sort of hosting, so DH was very doubtful and tried to talk her out of it. She said she was coming home that day and there would be leftover food from the funeral. We were still doubtful, and I probably should have just shut it down right then, but it sounded reasonable enough so we hesitantly went along. I was still concerned about the timetable, since she said to "just drop by after church." She has never quite understood that we live about 40 minutes away and there is no "dropping by." This would mean that we weren't going to be eating lunch until about 1:30, but it had basically been decided, so off we went.
First bad sign: we arrive to an empty, locked house. DH calls Sally, who says they will be there in 30 minutes or so, and to let ourselves in with the hidden key. As we're searching for the hidden key, BIL suddenly emerges from their basement apartment where he lives. He had no idea we were there, and tells us he's late for band practice and leaves. (On his mother's milestone birthday. With guests there. And did you catch the part where he lives in his parents' basement and plays in a band? But I digress.)
We finally let ourselves in. It's obvious that nobody has been in the kitchen for days, to throw out old food and so forth, which is understandable. I start cleaning things out and taking the trash out. I look in the fridge, and the promised funeral food is not there. After several minutes of this, my kids are starting to hesitantly ask when we're eating. (My kids are tweens, it's not like we had ravenous toddlers, but still.) DH finally calls Sally again. She says they'll be there in another 30 minutes, and the food is at the neighbors' house across the street so why don't we run over there and get it? Um, no, I'm not knocking on a stranger's door demanding food from their fridge, so in the absence of a better idea I start rummaging for something for my kids to eat. This proves to be a challenge, because most of what I'm finding looks like it's past its prime and I'm afraid for them to eat it.
Sally finally shows up, with her caregiver, and is being incredibly verbally abusive to the caregiver, marginally polite to me and DH, and actually fairly pleasant to the kids. The neighbors appear a few minutes later, having been privy to some arrangement that wasn't shared with us, with the funeral food. Which, by the way, is not in stellar shape either, nor is there very much of it. The neighbors are very nice people, they stay and chat for a few minutes, and the wife offers to come over the next day and help Sally out. What time does Sally want her there? "How about 7:30 in the morning?" Wife chuckles and says, "I can't come over that early! Seriously." Sally grumps a little and tells her to come at 2:30 instead. Neighbors make their exit. Sally then informs me she needs a birthday cake, and granted I should have brought one. (I am actually an outstanding baker and with a little more lead time, I could have made one.) I feel guilty and offer to go get one, even though I don't know the neighborhood well and it would make more sense to send DH to do it. DH has his keys in his hand to go when she suddenly shifts gears and says never mind. We're trying our best to remind ourselves that her mental issues are causing this chaos, but it's not easy. Sally continues to be so verbally abusive and nasty to her caregiver that DH finally very kindly gets her to stop, because honestly if I were in the caregiver's shoes I would have just walked out by now.
So, we manage to sit and have very tense conversation with Sally. Sally insists, in her ironclad way, that I play the piano for everyone. I am beyond rusty and I was never very good, so I sort of pick my way along while she sort of glowers. I mention that DD is about to start taking violin lessons, and next thing I know I'm having to pull Sally's old violin out of the closet and admire it. It's an extremely cheap-looking instrument that is actually labeled "Stradivarius," such an obvious fake that I'm wincing. She tells me that it's too valuable for DD to play so don't ask her if we can borrow it, but please take her bow to a shop an hour's drive from my house sometime this week and have it rehaired. Um, no thanks.
I escape to the kitchen at that point to wash some dishes, give the caregiver (who is hiding in the kitchen) a sympathetic glance and rack my brain for something to say. I spy a plant that was sent to the funeral and realize that it's almost dead, but if it gets some water right now it might live. I put it in the sink and water it, then stick my head back in the living room and brightly chirp that I just watered the plant. She tells me that there are a dozen more plants in the carport, please go water the ones that can be saved and throw the other ones out. She tells DH that at a later time, he needs to help with some heavy jobs around the house. He says he will, and as a proud-dad aside mentions that DS is getting big enough to help with some pretty heavy-duty jobs too. She says in a hateful tone, "Well, you make him help then. Do NOT let him backtalk you." I bite my lip; where in the world did that come from?
At that point I start giving DH meaningful looks and we start saying our goodbyes. She is going back to the hospital facility this afternoon (she just came to the house for a visit) so she starts thinking up a convoluted strategy that involves DH taking her back, us going home, and then "running back by" to see the facility. We remind her once again that we live 40 minutes away. BIL, thank heavens, reappears at that point and is drafted into taking her. We manage to escape pleasantly enough, without any more huge and pointless assignments, and haven't had a ton of contact since then. I'm trying, but I just can't rid my mind of the verbal abuse, the nonsensical food arrangements, or her attempts to inconvenience everyone as much as possible.