Feel like I'm losing my only ally.

Started by

I'm third out of seven grown children. The three oldest live near my mother in Florida. I've always been the primary source of help for my mother, but my next oldest sister has also taken on a lot of responsibilities for Mom since I moved Mom and myself over to the area where the two sisters live. Second sis eventually took over my mother's finances and schedule, made her drs appointments, and would take her grocery shopping and to the library once a week as well as many of the doctors appointments. She was also a sympathetic and understanding ear for all my stress and difficulty with my mother.

Fast forward 3 years and things are changing. My sister somehow added the library trips to my schedule, and I've also ended up with most of the (numerous) doctors' appointments in the past few months. She's retired, but she's very involved in her HOA association government, as well as with her grown kids and grandkids. She always seems to have a conflict. Often my mother has a neighbor take her for groceries because my sister often has a conflict, no matter which day it is. Maybe she's just getting sick of sacrificing other activities for Mom. But I've been sick of it for a lot longer than she has and she knows that everything she shucks off is falling on me.


I do all the work around Mom's house, as well as one trip to Walmart and the library, and often for prescriptions and other errands. Mom needs help with everything house-related, from taking out the trash to running the dishwasher. I change her sheets once a week, take her car for service, all the things that "just come up." Nobody else is around when things "just come up" so it's always me.

The worst part is - well, there are two worst parts. One is that my mother is having health problems right now and needs help even with things she could do herself two months ago. On top of that, my other sister who lives nearby has been busy taking care of her husband who's battling cancer, so neither oldest sis nor brother in law has been available to give any help since about Easter. So the burden on me is heavier than ever.

The other worst part is that my second sis (the helper), to whom I'd grown very close, has basically dropped me as a friend. When I call she's busy and doesn't call back, or we talk only for a few minutes and she has to go. She doesn't call me except when she needs something (me to watch her cat while she's away, me to cover a dr appointment for Mom because she has to watch her grandkids that day). Last year she took me out to lunch for my birthday. This year she forgot my birthday, then left a gift card for me at my mother's house for me to find when she wasn't there.

I don't need a gift card. I need a sister. I need an ally. I don't know how to talk to her about this (or even if I should) because she tends to bristle and become defensive when she feels she's being criticized, and I don't want to go down that road. I'm feeling very alone and very sad right now.

21 Comments

Aw, Carla, this is sad. I'm so sorry that you are feeling "dropped" by sis.

One thing jumped out at me in your post. Things are changing. Yes; your mother's needs are changing, her family ' s life circumstances are change and it seems like you are all a bit burnt out from her increasing needs.

Can you write your geographically close sisters notes and invite them for a serious afternoon's conversation about next steps in mom's care?
That is really hurtful, Carla. Is she married? When I see things like this, I wonder if there has been some behind-the-scene talking, such as her saying that Mom is taking too much time and someone else saying to cut back. It's like being on the other side of the things that we read here on the group at times. When one person cuts back, it shifts it over to another. It sounds like that person is you.

I wonder if there is a way to let her know that it is okay to cut back on things she does without having to avoid you. It sounds like you've both been doing a lot. Maybe your sister is not so dedicated to keeping your mother at home as you are? I guess there is nothing to do but accept that, but I know it would be nice to have your sister back again.
Thanks for the sympathy, JessieBelle and Babalou. I probably should clarify a few facts.

None of us is committed to keeping Mom at home, least of all me. I thought from the very beginning that Mom should be in assisted living, but my two sisters assured her that that wouldn't need to happen (after Mom cried pathetically at the idea). My second sis/ally has always set strict parameters around what she was willing to do for Mom, and set her priorities accordingly. She always admitted that she would not be willing to trade places with me. She's widowed, but she nursed her husband through a terminal illness, and that's part of her reason of setting limits. She doesn't want to take care of anyone again.

Her husband has been gone 4+ years and I think my sister is done grieving and is having a sort of renewal. She has a million friends, activities, even started dating recently. So taking care of an elderly parent is likely fitting less and less into her plans. I understand that, but there's a lot more to do now that my mother's unwell and my BIL is out of the picture (he was a big help with home maintenance things) and I expected my sister to at least keep doing what she'd been doing in the past. I'm already filling in with all the things my BIL used to do, so right now I can't really feel that it's okay for her to cut back. And maybe she knows that and that's why she's avoiding me. Damn.
Im sorry you feel you are losing your sister Carla. Sounds like you are correct that she could be pulling away and avoiding out of guilt for not doing her share. Wonder if you could have an honest conversation with her. Tell her how much her support means to you. ... how important it is for her to spend quality time with you.

Its a shame to let these relationships fade away when you need them the most!
Well it sounds to me like your sisters are taking care of their own mental and physical health and it's time for you to do the same. Get mom into a facility where you're not having to take care of a house and her meals and housekeeping are provided. Maybe your sisters will be more active in her care then.
Oh, blannie, if it were only that simple! There's no way my mother would agree to go into a facility unless all of us presented a united front, and figured out how to finance it as well. My two sisters and BIL and I sat down to discuss this last summer and agreed that Mom needed to go into a facility, but there was no plan put in place for making that happen. (This was after I presented them with a comprehensive list of all the tasks Mom needed to have done for her), Then a month or so later, my oldest sis took my mom out somewhere and reported back to us that Mom was walking well and didn't need to go in a facility. But no discussion was held as to how the tasks (all of which still needed to be done) would be divided up. I think in retrospect the agreement was just a stall tactic, to avoid having to divide up the responsibilities.

I'm beginning to feel that the only way to help myself is to pack up and leave. If they won't work it out with me, they'll be forced to work it out without me.

Carla, I'm so sorry to learn of the dissension and the lack of cooperation by your sisters. The only things I can think of are drastic, and I sense that you're a person who tries to resolve things rather than take arbitrary action.

I guess the issues are that your sisters aren't going to cooperate, you have too much on your plate, and how can that change or what other alternatives are there? As long as you continue to bear the brunt of the responsibility, the sisters have no reason to change. So, is there a way you can force that issue?

Can you afford to hire home care, after advising the sisters that you're burnt out and expect either (a) physical assistance or (b) monetary assistance? And of course, make your contact in writing so you have documentation. It sounds as if this situation could get worse and there may eventually be a squabble by the nonparticipating sisters over what their shares of an estate are.

You could also send them a list of what needs to be done and ask for volunteers, even though it doesn't seem as though they'd respond positively. However, then I wouldn't think you need to be concerned about their feelings or approval for whatever action you take.

And that may be to either get home care in ASAP or find a suitable place for your mother. I'd go for hired home care first, but I would also advise the siblings that you expect their monetary contribution.

Since you're an attorney, is there a way you could distance yourself and pretend that this situation is presented to you by a client, even though as I recall your practice area was labor law? Can you think of it in those terms? I.e., management and several unions are in disagreement about certain issues. How would you go about resolving them? Not easy though.

Sometimes if you can take the personal and emotional issues out of the equation it's easier to think in terms of solutions. Sometimes it takes me awhile to do that, but if I can think of my problems as someone else's, I can get more perspective on the situation.

Wish I could think of something more realistic to help you. If I do, I'll be back.
GardenArtist - I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news that there is no money for home care. My mother's expenses consume her full income every month and she has no savings. The good news is that there's no estate either. Not even life insurance. She gets a small funeral allowance from her pension plan and that is it.

The only way I can really force the issue is to move away (or, in your scenario, leave the bargaining table). Which I have wanted to do since I moved here because I hate Florida and still long for the Northeast, especially in the summer. I haven't been out of Florida in almost 5 years now. That's part of what makes me so upset. Everyone knows I'm sacrificing a lot just to be here, yet nobody else thinks they should have to sacrifice at all.

And I'm sure everyone knows that the parent simply stops reaching out to those who make themselves scarce, and just piles more on the person who makes herself available. Mom would never call one of my sisters and say "Would you come over and run my dishwasher?" But she will catch me as I'm walking out after changing her bed and say "Aren't you going to run the dishwasher? What about the trash? Did you bring in my mail? Etc. etc." By staying away, they don't see all the things that need to be done, and they don't get asked to do anything either. So nobody, including Mom, has any incentive to change this situation.
Carla, in your frustration you've helped someone else - me. Your last paragraph was so insightful I've copied it, if you don't mind. It explains a lot of previously unexplainable issues in my own situation.

I've gotten tired of asking: "why don't you ask (a) (b) (c) for help?" Now I know. And I think I need to just say that I won't do certain things so that (a), (b) or (c) can have the "opportunity". If that doesn't happen, especially for medical appointments, I may just suggest using the local point-to-point transit although I know will incite anger and resentment.

I wish I had some suggestions for you. Perhaps it's time to announce that you're returning to the NE, and (a) inform the sibs that you're leaving alone, and/or (b) take your mother with you and find a nice place for her there, if the financial situation can work out.

What I do think though is that you're the only one who's going to address the situation. The sibs will just let the status quo remain as they live their own lives. And, like me, you're going to have to start calling the shots....perhaps even make a list of what you will or won't do for your mother.

Or maybe it's time to (a) show Mom how to run the dishwasher (b) find someone in the area to bring in the mail (we have the next door neighbor's children).

Another thing that works is to" get sick", especially with an orthopedic injury that prevents you from doing a lot of legwork and running around. Sometimes it can be amazing what someone will figure out how to do when the primary caregiver isn't available.

Glad I could help, GardenArtist. Sometimes we know things that we can't articulate, and then when someone else articulates it, we realize we knew it all along!

Little bits and pieces of the help my mother needs can of course be farmed out to others. But her situation grows progressively worse. She knows how to run the dishwasher but can't do it due to manual dexterity problems (it's a portable that has to be hooked up to the sink). She can't put dishes away or change her bedding because her balance is so poor she can't reach up or bend over without losing it. Her mailbox is in a central mailroom and needs a key to open it. Both my sisters live in the same community as my mother and have keys to her mailbox but they don't pick it up and bring it over. They just don't. It never occurs to them to wonder when Mom last got her mail.

My mother is at the stage of needing active oversight. She doesn't realize when food goes bad in her fridge or her fruit basket. I don't think she knows that the filter has to be changed in her air conditioner every few months. She never thinks to clean the lint filter in her dryer. A million things like that. I'm just so tired of carrying all this alone when two other daughter are right there, each within a few blocks of her. They just don't seem to want to trouble themselves at all.

Keep the conversation going (or start a new one)

Please enter your Comment

Ask a Question

Reach thousands of elder care experts and family caregivers
Get answers in 10 minutes or less
Receive personalized caregiving advice and support