Carolyn Hax: Local sister deflects requests to do more for aging mom – Lifotravel

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: As the long-distance daughter to an elderly, widowed mother with health needs, I have to navigate a tricky relationship with my sister who lives locally. Sister beat breast cancer and looks at our mother’s every health issue through the lens of, “This is nothing compared with what I went through.” Plus, this sister has her hands full with special-needs kids. So the slightest suggestion I make that she help out our mother is met with a combo of spite and righteous indignation, because how dare I when I live far away and when her plate is overflowing.

Our mother is fearful to burden my sister with anything, yet piles on the guilt to me that she has to go to medical procedures all alone. I get this is a sandwich generation issue, but it’s also a sibling issue that I can’t tackle.

— Powerless Long-Distance Daughter

Powerless Long-Distance Daughter: “Powerless”? No. You can tackle it: Make not even the “slightest suggestion” that “she help out our mother.” Ever.

When a cancer survivor with special-needs children at home is the only one local to a sick, elderly, widowed mom, nobody gets to step in to tell her she needs to do more. Especially not the person who lives out of reach of all the most soul-sucking work.

If you have the means, then offer money toward your mother’s care — for a home health aide, a visiting nurse, a housekeeper, a meal delivery service. Or pick up the chores you can do remotely, such as ordering groceries for delivery or managing insurance and prescriptions. Even a nominal contribution is a show of good faith, much more so than resigning yourself to helplessness beyond telling your sib what to do.

Your mom, by the way, is the one stirring this pot, and it’s totally inappropriate. Your sister is. not. an option. Exactly as you are not an option. Treating your geography obstacle as, “Oops, gee, can’t,” then treating Sis’s responsibility-saturation obstacle as, “Oh, what’s one more little thing?” is why families implode over elder care.

Treat the two obstacles the same. And respond to Mom’s complaints accordingly and plainly: that daughters driving her to appointments is. not. an option. Then say you and she (Mom) need to brainstorm a Plan B. Is it time for a home aide, a medical chaperone, an informal network of friends? If she resists, then kindly/firmly/no-BSly remind her that the alternative is not the sister; the alternative is the status quo, where she manages these things by herself. Is she okay with that, then? If not, then back to the options carousel. Disliking the options is not to be mistaken for actually having different ones.

Tell us: What’s your favorite Carolyn Hax column about becoming an adult?

· My siblings have Dad conference-call us into his doctors’ appointments — preferably by video. At least we can hear the docs and say things like, “Hey, Dad, remember last week you told us X?”

· Fully agree that it’s a terrible idea to make helpy suggestions that add to Sister’s list. One thing you can do from afar is reach out to the local council on aging and discover what services might be available for Mom. Then, with Mom’s buy-in, line them up and be the main contact.

· You can tackle it. You just don’t want to. There are plenty of things you can do that don’t involve your sister. For some reason, you and your mom want to stick your sister with these responsibilities.

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