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I am trying to research a specific caregiving problem and cannot find information or help anywhere. My brother's mother-in-law is dying of cancer and needs around the clock care. She refuses any help from anyone other than my brother's wife, Amy, who has to feed her, change her, shower her, etc., while caring for three kids and working a full time job. Whenever Amy tries to leave her mom, who is now in an assisted living home, the mother goes on and on (while moaning and sighing) about how she is dying and how can Amy leave her alone like this when she is dying, how she needs this and that and doesn't want anyone but Amy to take care of her even though many other people are willing to help. Amy's mother has even gone so far, when she was still at home, as to call 911 as soon as Amy left her side and went to tend to her own needs. A doctor has suggested she is doing this for attention but Amy feels tremendously guilty about saying no to her mother's outrageous demands and I feel she is being manipulated into caring for her mother non-stop around the clock and is not having time for her kids and husband and not going to work or taking care of herself. How can we make her realize she is being manipulated and run ragged and that she needs to stop and take a break and set firm limits. I feel like she is being held as an emotional hostage. She says she is afraid to say no to her mother about anything because she could die at any moment and she would not be able to live with the guilt of saying no to her. I cannot find information or examples of this happening to anyone else. Where can I get help with this situation? My brother is worn out caring for his three kids himself, working fulltime and bearing his wife's grief and stress. Please help!

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While Amy may feel guilty if her mom passes and she's said no to her, it's also likely she will need to work thru guilt later even if she says yes all the time. In spite of her best efforts, she may feel guilty that she didn't do enough and she'll have to work thru it. But the guilt she doesn't want later is looking back and feeling like she wasn't there for her husband or kids at a time they needed her.
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My husband was always a patient patient. When he was sick he went to bed and stayed there quietly as I checked on him once in a while for beverage needs and other comforts. Me? I'm a lousy patient. I moan and groan and display my anger that these stupid germs dared to attack me. While my husband was dying he was his usual patient and quiet self. Lord only knows how I'll be when I know the end is in sight. I have a feeling that I won't go gentle into that good night. If so, I hope those around me will give me attention and try to sooth me, but not let me take unreasonable advantage of them.

I am glad to hear that this behavior wasn't life-long co-dependency. I am sorry for how early in her life Amy's mother is facing this. I don't blame Amy for wanting to do anything she can for her mother at this point.

But I also hope, for Amy's sake, that she can be persuaded to limit herself to what is reasonable, that she can accept some support from a counselor, and that she can give up the super-hero cape that makes her think she can make Mother's dying a stress-free experience for Mom. None of us have that kind of power over death.

Bless you for trying to help.

Perhaps another way you could help would be to take your nieces/nephews out for a day or a weekend, so she and your brother have one less thing to think about for several hours. Maybe you could bring a home-cooked (or restaurant) meal to their home. Or offer do to the laundry each week for a while. Gift them with a housecleaning service for a couple of months. Amy is understandably stressed right now. Trying to convince her to change her interactions with her mother could be very helpful. But there are also other practical ways to lightened her load. Keep in mind this is temporary.
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I just want to add that when my dad was actively dying of chronic leukemia, my mom, by then in her 70s, kept up her 'one course at a time" March towards her BS degree. She told me that it was the only thing that kept her sane, that Daddy would complain endlessly about how awful it was that she was leaving (for 4 hours!). I learned a very important lesson from her in that example.
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SIL is being held as an emotional hostage.

Is her mother on hospice? We are all, after all, dying. MIL is dying more actively and presumably sooner rather than later. How soon is that expected to be? Is she on Hospice? If she is not eligible for hospice care, then I don't think the "might die any minute" is particularly valid. Any of her children or her husband or she herself "might die any minute." That is the uncertain nature of human life. It is not something we can allow to drive all of our decisions.

But, how to convince SIL of this? That is the issue, isn't it? And I am not sure logic is going to be very effective. Maybe instead of trying to get SIL to give up her hostage status, it would work better to convince her that her children need her, and that her husband needs her. I hate to suggest you press a different guilt button. But the fact is that the time she is neglecting her children now is time she will never get back. I hope your brother is a compassionate and patient man, but this situation can wear at their relationship.

If MIL is on hospice and may literally die any minute of her cancer, and is expected to have at most a few months to live, then maybe everyone being as supportive as they can of SIL and not trying to change her would work.

This is very difficult, isn't it? Please let us know what (if anything) you try, how it works, and how this situation unfolds. We learn from each other.
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I don't think the question of "how long" will Amy put up with this is the most important question in this case. Amy's mother is definitely dying. Maybe not tomorrow, but within the year ... and very possibly much sooner. The behavior will be self-limiting.

And I personally don't find it so hard to understand that someone facing her own death would behave in ways uncharacteristic of her in the past. I think I might ratchet my selfishness ratio up a notch or two. (I hope not, but I wouldn't guarantee it.)

If this really is a drastic change in behavior, I don't think we have to worry about FOG and co-dependency and any other kind of dysfunctional relationships. I think it is more a matter of getting through an extremely stressful and challenging time with the least damage possible.
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Jeanne, I agree with you. In this instance I don't think a battle for self assertion is needed. What I see is a family in crisis and a MIL who is dying soon. I personally would be very reluctant to tinker with this situation. Instead I would offer all the support that I could to ease the burden on SIL and brother. The idea of cooking some meals or taking the kids somewhere enjoyable sounds like very good ideas to me. I would listen to vents and offer support. I would let the husband and wife deal with limits at the present time. Perhaps the marriage needs support so they can pull through this thing together, instead of being torn apart. That may be an important role the rest of the family can play.
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Most assisted living facilities and nursing homes have social workers. It would be a good idea for your sister to have an honest conversation with one of these counselors and then have a meeting including Mom. SIL's first responsibility is to take care of herself so she can care for her own family. Her Mother is being unreasonable and boundaries need to be set for everyone's wellbeing.

I have a feeling Mom has a long history of laying on the guilt and needing more attention than necessary. Very unhealthy situation for all involved. SIL should get a schedule of those willing to help and let Mom know others care about her and will be there to do what is needed. "Mom, I have to take care of myself and my family. I cannot do it all." Mom will adjust and SIL and her family will be happier. Good luck!
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You know, it's hard to get other people to change their behavior, especially when it is ingrained. Hospice is a great suggestion, because the hospice workers, nurses and social workers probably have more experience dealing with situations like this and can give good solid advice to your SIL. The question is, will she listen?

The other question is, is the mother really in imminent danger of dying, or is she just very ill? I wonder if your brother arranged a couple of days' vacation at a not too distant resort hotel or something of that during the next school break, if she would see the value to getting away for just a bit and leaving mom to outside caregivers?

You might point out to your SIL (or have your brother do this) that she's not going to be any good to anyone if she gets sick from the stress of doing this by herself. People who need 24/7 care need three shifts of caregivers. Ultimately, your SIL is being quite selfish.
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Not much more to add to above. Being an emotional hostage is very real and difficult to overcome.

Suggest to SIL that she join or sit in on a support group for caregivers. The AL probably has one, or her church or the local senior center might suggest one. Also if she can visit this site, she might not feel so alone in this and will learn its okay and healthy to set boundaries and say no.

Would she be open to her husband saying something to mom?

It's very hard, but only she can set boundaries and limit visits and ignore constant phone calls. I had to do so, and my situation did improve. One thing I did was shut the phone off at 8pm in the evening. Friends, children, police have my husbands number to call if there is an emergency or they want to get ahold of me.

It allowed me to rest and have some worry free hours each day. Eventually mom stopped the evening calls. Now she rarely calls at all because she doesn't want to have to talk to my husband.

SIL can visit on set days and limit to an hr or so. I know it must be hard and not sure how close she is with mom, but mom has to adjust and understand that her daughter has other family members to care for to and HERSELF and that there are others that mom needs to rely on as well. It won't happen if SIL doesn't help her mom to rely on others.

i finally had the conversation with my mom...telling her I loved her, but couldn't be her everything and it wasn't fair to me or my family when she only wanted and only would accept my help.
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67, oh how sad that is! If this is a drastic behavioral change, she really needs to be seen by a psychiatrist. There could be brain involvement, she could need antidepressant meds, and on and on. But severe behavioral changes should be reported to her doctors. "Looking for attention" is an easy out for a lot of docs. It's one thing if it's life long narcissism; it's another if it's a new symptom.
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