QUESTION TO "ASK THE EXPERT":
Sibling Relationship in Caregiving
"I have been intensely involved with my father's care for the last year. He has dementia, which got worse after my mother died. Shortly after her death, it became evident that he could no longer live safely in his home without help. Because he lived in another state, arranging support services for him, long distance, was very challenging for me; I was constantly on the phone or traveling back and forth, which was definitely putting a substantial strain on myself and my family.
After several months, I finally discussed assisted living with Dad, and he was agreeable. I was able to find an Assisted Living place near my home in California and arrange to have some of his furniture moved there from the family home back East. That seemed to make the transition easier for him and he is now living there quite happily. I was so consumed with the number of things to do to make everything work out that I was exhausted but I could not sleep. It has been so scary for me to have so much responsibility for settling my parents' estate and taking complete responsibility for my father's well being and future life.
Adding to the stress was the fact that my sister, who lives less than fifty miles away from my parents' home, has refused to take any responsibility for making sure that my father was safe there. Her lack of involvement or care for Dad (or both my parents, when my mother was still alive) is long standing. What has been frustrating to me is that while she has seldom responded to my requests for input, she seems to react with anger when I go ahead and solve a problem. She told me that I was "rude and inappropriate" when I asked her to ask Dad, in writing, before she takes furniture from the house, as I am trying to keep an inventory of the disposition of the estate. Dad might have some dementia, but he still considers the home his and I want to respect that.
I don't know how I should respond to my sister. It is very hurtful to me to either not get a response to requests for input, or to get short notes with implied or direct criticisms, without even a slight acknowledgement of my efforts. I will need to clean out the house and sell whatever furniture no one wants, but I dread dealing with my sister anymore. Do you have any ideas about how I should deal with this?"
RESPONSE FROM "ASK THE EXPERT"
"I understand your frustration in juggling taking care of your father and trying to navigate a relationship with your sister at the same time. When decisions about parents have to be made, it often is a time of tension within families.
This first thing you need to do is whatever is appropriate for you and your father regarding his care. It seems you have done a good job of that by getting him into housing where he is happy and where you can visit him regularly.
The second thing you need to do is take care of yourself. Sometimes that might means not having much contact with your sister, esp. if relating to her is not supportive and nurturing. You cannot change her and I do not know your history with her. At the moment, you have to take her responses to you at face value. We can all speculate on whether she is feeling guilty or is angry because she thinks that you have always been in control, or whether she is scared by your father's dementia. But we cannot know what is behind her behavior, esp. if she won't talk with you about it. What is your support system outside of family? Do you have friends, a church group or do you attend a support group where you can get reassurance and affirmation? I would strongly encourage you to use these resources if you haven't already. A counselor can sometimes be helpful at times like this also.
Third, regarding issue of taking things from your father's house, I would recommend that you consult with an attorney, perhaps the attorney that helped your parents when they did their estate planning.(Depending on how your father can communicate on the phone, he might want to talk with the attorney himself.)
The attorney can provide guidance regarding a plan for distribution of possessions in your father's will. If appropriate, he or she could help her draw up legal papers regarding the disposition of possessions that would make it easier for you and your sister because then it would be your father's decision and not something for the two of you to negotiate. Negotiating is hard across 3000 miles, particularly when emotions are not amicable."
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