Friday, December 5, 2008

"The Cause"

Dear Aunt B,

Here is my story. I come from a large family, 10 children, I have 6 sisters and three brothers, minus 1 brother who passed a few years ago. My Dad is also gone. My Mom is in her mid 80's and lives in my sister's multi family home on the first floor with another sister. My sister who owns the home, lives upstairs with her husband. She has 5 kids, and all but one are out of the house. This sister has grand kids she minds and holds a job. The sister who lives with Mom is the primary caretaker for her and also has a part time job. Everyone else does not live in this town, but we do all live in the same State. Every week, Mon., Tues, Thurs, and Friday, 4 of us girls take turns spending at least part of the day with Mom, Weds., we don't have anyone that can do it so she usually stays in alone ( but my other sister is right upstairs if she needs anything; and she usually stops in several times throughout the day). I should also mention that Mom has full mental competence. She is a little weak and uses a walker in the house to get around and a cane outside. She has heart problems but is doing very well with medication.Recently she has been back and forth to the Doctors for some health complaints. When she has to go, someone other than the sister who lives with her takes her to her appointments and also picks up all her prescriptions because that sister does not have a car. We also take her shopping and to any other appointments or family events. Here is the problem. The sister who lives with my Mom feels like she is doing so much more than everyone else and has shut her self off from the rest of us. She has voiced her frustration to me in the past and I have told her that I would help out more if she would just tell me what I could do that would help her out. She said she didn't know but I thought she just didn't want to tell me, so I offered up some suggestions. I said I could stay overnight one night a week, and help out but she said no, because then my mother would think that she was a burden to her and she wouldn't want that. I offered to stay for a weekend with my Mom and told her to take some time off by herself. Again she said no, that my Mom would wonder where she was going and feel that she was a burden to her. Then I asked her what else can I do and she said, there's nothing anyone can do and she looked so down. I'm not sure if she is feeling bad about being overwhelmed with my Mom or just sad about not having a life of her own. She doesn't have any friends and is not married and has no children. She has always lived at home and can't afford her own place. I think in some ways we all felt that because she lives there that is why she would do more. Believe me, we all see my Mom a lot. There is always some family event that we are going to where we pick my Mom up and take her to. With the exception of one brother and one sister, the other 7 of us are pretty active in her life. One sister takes Mom to Foxwoods once a month and Mom usually stays over her house. ( We would all let Mom take turns staying with us more often but she prefers to sleep in her own bed).We don't do the bathing and the personal care because my sister who lives with Mom has been doing it and Mom seems comfortable with her and also she does it at night. We know that my sister takes on a lot and we are very appreciative of her and tell her very often. Me and her were extremely close and she could talk to me about anything and share her frustrations in the past but recently she has just shut us all out. The rest of us are also trying to hold down jobs and take care of our own house and families too. Please don't even mention that we get outside help or consider a nursing home because these are out of the question. It would have to be something else. I have talked to some of my other siblings and they are willing to do more but how can we when we can't even communicate with her and she doesn't want Mom to know that she is overwhelmed? I am also concerned because I know that my Mom is aware of what's going on because when we are with her at her home and my sister is there she usually stays in her room with the door closed. I have knocked on her door and asked her to please let me in to talk about this but she told me to go away. Mom has been complaining about not feeling well and we had to bring her into the hospital again for observation. The doctors say that they can't find anything wrong with her and I think it might be stress. Every time Mom has to go into the hospital my sister who lives with her gets really upset with us all. She feels that when Mom comes home that she is left with her and we all get to go home, and she is left with the stress that something might happen to her or that she won't get any sleep worrying about her. But if we offer to stay, she doesn't want that either! Please help! What can we do?

Thank you,


Dear Anonymous,

Wow! What a multifaceted and frustrating situation. I see why you are having such a hard time with this. As well, I can see exactly what's happening. Several things appear to be going on here but it will be hard to pin this down. The variables are quite complex. I think we can decipher this, it's just a matter of putting it into words.

It seems to me that everyone is trying to pull his or her weight. It is really self evident that your family dynamics are really wonderful, kind of old school. I can see things are the way it should be when concerning the care and compassion pertaining to taking care of an elderly parent. I would hope and pray that my own children cared enough to do and behave the same way.

What I believe is going on does not have a quick and easy answer.The sister that lives with Mom has vented her frustration and I can see that you've done what you could, within your power to accommodate her. The situation with her is that she feels she has basically given up her life to help with Mom. In many ways, she has given up her life, time and effort because she feels no one can take better care of your Mom, better than her.

The thing is though, her position, well, it's similar to someone painting themselves into a corner. Now, they are painting away, doing the job, doing it rather well but no one told them to take that direction, even though it is apparent they are getting the job done.
Who should they be mad at, at that very moment that they see that they are in a corner and it feels there's no escape?

Your sister is upset because she feels she has sacrificed everything for "The Cause." In truth she has pretty much given up all plans, you know the every day comings & goings, trappings, that we all do and participate in that make up what life is on that every day basis. What I mean is she quit making plans or attending to friends or even making new friends because in her mind she is locked into her situation. She also believes that no one can do her job as well as she does. Now, this might very well be true because she knows that your Mom does not trust anyone like she does your sister. The whole sense of enmeshmentcan not be helped.

If the truth were known, I get the sense that your sister, after painting herself into the corner, tends to use it so she does not have to commit to anything else. Now, call me crazy but I feel in many ways she feels much like a Martyr for The Cause. While her stance is commendable and what she does for your Mom requires so much of her, fostering the idea that she is trapped and painted into a corner is somewhat a state of mind.

I think you had approached it all the best way you knew how. For further reference, you might begin to make her aware that she needs to begin to get out more, make plans for outside activities, make new friends. I know you said you've tried to talk to her but she stays safe behind closed doors. We'll have to work around that.

More/Most importantly, she must know that she does not have to shoulder all of this. I know and you know that she does not need to be the primary caretaker for your Mom, yet she feels she does and is. In many respects, she feels overwhelmed and exasperated, yet she holds the key, in her mind to your Mom's well being and daily care.This is true in many degrees I mean you even stated that it is your sister that does the daily "private" things for your Mom. This affords your Mom some sort of dignity you know, not being passed around, especially when it comes to those private matters. Again, this is commendable.

I think the only answer that might be reasonable is for you to write her a letter and push it under the door. In the letter
, you let her know that she has got to know how much, if no one else says it, that you appreciate her. Tell her you think everyone feels the same way about this and there are not enough thank you's in the world to cover the situation.

Let her know that you are aware of her frustration and it is understandable. Tell her that you feel she needs to begin to get her own life back on track and you want to help with that transition.

I would speak to the rest of the family and get them on board with this understanding as well. Again, I can see that all of you seem to be on the same page, concerning Mom. I have the feeling that although Mom could be fussy and strict at times, you guys adore her. You not only love her but like her as well. It speaks out loud for itself, just how important she is to you all. I imagine that there is no greater honor...

However, I think that Mom is not as fragile as we think and your sister needs to put things into perspective. She must get out of that corner, allow others to help more and basically stop persecuting herself for the common good of The Cause.

Now, I hope you are aware and hear what I am saying. You must relay to your sister that it's time for a change. Tell her that it's rather obvious that she's not happy. Then, you give her permission to feel this way by letting her know she has every right in the world to have these emotions.

I think quite frankly that there's a side of your sister that carry's enormous guilt because she wants more from life. One side is quite resentful because of that corner she's painted into while the other tells her she has no right and is a horrible daughter for feeling this way. You assure her that she is not, that you all understand and again, it's time for a change. Remind her that this, her situation is not forever, you want to help alter and usher in this transformation. Let her know that none of this is forever, be patient as it's only for a season.

Keeping It Real,

Aunt Babz

P.S. You could attach a copy of this to your letter. Maybe, just maybe she'd see that you care enough to have written me looking for some/any answer. I pray she will receive this all well and in the spirit it was written. Selah

Dear Anonymous,

It is very hard to deal with a Martyr, and that is what your sister is. She isn’t doing it to be a bitch, simply put she holds an enormous amount of guilt if she can not hold up her part of the responsibilities of things. Problem with that, is she will always feel that she has to shoulder more responsibility than anyone else, and she will resent all the others for it. Maybe with something’s, you are not seeing the full picture because you do not live there, but it does sound like you are all trying to do your part.

All you can do is reassure your sister that if she needs anything that you are all there for her, and that you have told her this numerous times. Maybe go one step further and just tell her you are going to spend some time with your mom on say, a Friday night, and you will be staying over. So if she wanted to make plans or not, it’s her choice. But then no matter if she stays or not.. You need to stay, to prove that you will do this for her if she would just take the chance to live a little.. And maybe if you show no signs of budging she will go for a walk or read a book, or do something on her own and get some relax time.

When you live with an ageing parent it is difficult to do anything else yourself, even if there are hands to help. Because you always feel like it is your obligation.. and that other siblings will feel that way as well because you live at home. It is a huge amount of pressure, and it gets hard to deal with when you feel guilt over a task that “should” be looked at as giving your love. But looking after someone 7 days a week is much different than doing your daily drop in. Not that you are doing anything wrong, or that I am belittling your visits. But do you understand why she might feel like she carries the weight?

Hopefully you can sit and talk about this... and if that doesn’t work, that you can lull her into some alone time like i said above.

Good luck,


"Even the most brilliant minds, may have troubled Souls"

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