Sister left mom for dead, wanted zero part of caring for her. How to handle my anger during family holiday gatherings?

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I dread this time of year. My mother had two strokes at the age of 65 over five years ago. My sister “opted out”. She flat out left me to take care of mom, saying she did not want any part of caring for her. She even went so far as to suggest we could leave mom in her house post-stroke and that neighbors would eventually call the Department of Social Services and someone from the state would come in to claim mom, making mom a ward of the state. My sister told me that all the headache, heartbreak, and exhaustion of caring for mom would be my fault if I chose to care for her, because I could simply walk away and let the state put her in a nursing home.

This is my challenge: our extended family always has a beautiful Christmas night gathering. I have not been in the last few years because I can’t stand the thought of seeing my sister. My sister doesn't come around all year, but she shows up to the family gatherings and hugs mom, sits close by her and acts lovingly. I know it is a fake act, because she hasn't contributed to mom’s well-being in over 5 years. I feel my sister puts on a show in front of the extended family so that she doesn't have to deal with the fallout if they knew the truth that she is nowhere to be found the other 364 days of the year.

We come from a very docile and religious family – but I swear I want to go “Jerry Springer style” on my sister at one of these gatherings!! I feel like she is such a fraud. Is there any way I can enjoy these family events and be honest with the rest of the family?

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" My sister told me that all the headache, heartbreak, and exhaustion of caring for mom would be my fault if I chose to care for her, because I could simply walk away and let the state put her in a nursing home."

Let me give another view....your sister told you the deal straight up from the get go, and she wasn't wrong. Does it suck that siblings don't step up? Yup. Do I blame them for not wanting the job of care giving 24/7? Nope. I believe that yes, the family should help their aging parents, and do what they can for them. But give up LIFE for them, go to PRISON for them, give up financial security and peace of mind, and even their own HEALTH for them? No way in hell.

I took care of my mom for over a decade. The cost to me, and my family, was astronomical. I went into it one person and came out of it an entirely different person...tired, exhausted, broke and alone. If I had to do it all over again would I have taken on the care giving role? God no. I would have told my mom to sell her assets and hire someone. Sure, I would have been there, would have visited, would have done things to help her....but take on this god awful role around the clock for years on end, had I known back in the day what I know now? No, no, a thousand times no. I cringe at the thought of my kids having to deal with me like that. That's something that I DON'T want for their lives. Should family step up and do their share to help? You bet. Should they be required to give up ALL for aging parents? Hell no. I think your sister is selfish for not doing more during the course of the year and leaving it all on you. She should be willing to give you some much needed breaks. But do I blame her for not wanting to take on the role you have? Not at all.
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SAHK,
All so very familiar I am going through many of the same things. I am the 24/7 caregiver for my mom. There are two sisters and it has become a nightmare. One sis is in the mental health field and from the beginning, more than two years ago, has made it clear that she has no intention of assisting in any way. The other sis will at least get mom out some Sundays. I have absolutely no desire to spend the holidays with them but will for moms benefit. She is under the assumption that ours was such a wonderful, happy family, and always felt that way. I guess she passed her delusions down to sis, always the narcissistic drama queen. Coincidentally, mom and drama queen are both middle children of three girls. What is it about birth order anyway.

You could try each of countrymouses suggestions, in fact I must have been using her set of instructions. I have tried it all from asking other family to dis-invite her, to letting her know exactly what I think of her narcissistic behavior, everything. Guess what, none of it worked. Why, because drama queen is an expert narcissist and quite adept at getting sympathy from everyone, including my grown children. Just get them on the phone and bawl her eyes out while explains to them how she is so picked on by me. I would be quite surprised if she ever expressed concern about moms health to my kids, it has always been about her and her hurt feelings. Not someone I would recommend to any of us, especially, for therapy.

So, try what you might, but do not expect it to make a bit of difference in how you feel about her or she about you. I'm not good about putting on fronts, in fact I am terrible at it. I would just as soon skip the holidays completely. We went through this same horrendous exercise last year and I really hoped it would be done, finis, kaput tor this year. No such luck, will probably last for years.

And to close, if anyone ever tells me again that life is too short for this anger and resentment, I will scream! Even though I know they are probably right.
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sahk - you have a lot of anger, and in my view that is the first and main thing and to be dealt with. Being left with a caregiving job with no help from family could trigger that as well as the comments your sisters made, and maybe other things. You say your mother has mental health issues. If these are long standing, they would contribute to your sister's reaction and your own. You have not shared if these are recent or not. My suspicion from what you have written is that they are long standing. I cannot explain, justify, or not, your sister's behaviour. I am having enough trouble dealing with my own and I have known her all my life, But I can address your feelings and suggest some ways to cope.

I do understand your discomfort at being, or not being at family gatherings. I didn't go to my father's funeral because of the stress my mother and my sister were causing me.That was many years ago. I do not regret that decision, though it did cause me some additional pain, but not as much as if I had gone. I had to do the "emotional math". Since then I have been able to let some of my reactions go, and detach emotionally from the abusive behaviours of my family. They have not changed, or may have worsened, but I have changed for the better for me. Counselling can help you deal with the anger. Writing it out, or getting it out symbolically - as jinx suggested - can help. Learn about and practice detaching. It is invaluable. Forgive your sister, and also your mother, if you need to, and anyone else connected. This is for your benefit not theirs. It takes some work but is do-able. You will feel relief not carrying this burden of anger around in you.

You mention a lot of tension between your mother, sister and yourself at the gathering, I think Gabby in the previous post has some good ideas there. Last year was my mother's 100th birthday and I gave myself permission not to go, if it was too stressful. But, I did go with sig other who was a support. Is there anyone who can go with you who is a support to you. I can see that you feel very vulnerable at these gatherings, and I understand that. I was prepared to be slighted and I was on several occasions. It came as no surprise which made it a little easier to bear. I had hurt feelings about it, sure, but nothing I couldn't deal and that didn't pass away. I very much enjoyed meeting my cousins again after years apart so over all it was a positive experience. I guess what I am suggesting is that you consider if is worth going (do the emotional math - does it hurt more to go, or to stay away) then prepare yourself ahead of time for the feelings you know you will have - whether they are the anger feelings of seeing your sis with your mum or the anger/hurt of missing the family gathering and or other feelings. If you decide not to go, can you plan something that will be good for you. It will not be the same, but I have found that I can "create new memories" for myself when it isn't possible or feasible to continue with the old traditions. Traditions in a family are important, but life changes - that is one constant, and we need to adapt.
I am so sorry that you are going through this and hope you can come to a place of more peace over it. You can't change other people - just yourself, Make the decisions which, though not ideal, are best for you. (((((((((((hugs))))))))))
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I agree with a lot of the answers already provided. But I wanted to add that I think what you may consider is a change in perspective. Rather than look at your sister's once yearly fake visit with Mom, remember that this is your mother's ONLY visit each year with her other daughter. Something she probably looks forward to. It might help if you consider the dinner as a gift to your mother to give your mother a drama free dinner. Perhaps an intermediary would help. Maybe you could take another family member you trust in your confidence that can run interference between you and your sister. If your sister tries to engage you in conversation, this person would confidentially be tasked with diverting her attention else where... "So sorry to interrupt, but I was wondering if you could tell me..." or something else completely innocuous but which will get her away from you without it being obvious that what's she's doing. If you have to talk to her be overly polite, keep it short and tell her you're a little busy right now, can you talk later and then just don't. The point is that you are doing this for your mother, not your sister. Make the day special for her (Mom) and make it about her. Let your sister play the fake doting daughter. Your mom will probably love it. While she's doting, you can be socializing with other family in another room or outside or helping with dinner. Just remember.... It's for your mother. I think then it might make the visit a little more bearable. And then reward yourself after the gathering for not staking the little soul sucking vampire.
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I would be surprised if none of your extended family "gossiped" about - or, in neutral terms, discussed - your immediate family situation. Do you think they don't if you're not there? Or is it that you don't care as long as you don't have to see it?

I would be even more surprised, though, to think of them standing round the three of you in a circle gleefully chanting "Fight! Fight! Fight!" Of course they talk about you. Doesn't mean they're not sorry about the situation. It's in the nature of big families that the ones who don't know you that well will be enjoying a sort of soap opera, but only in a smug "thank God it's not me" way. They're not going to be laughing behind your back, not if they know how fickle Fortune is and what's good for them, anyway. And the ones who know and like you will just be sad that it's like this, and hope that nobody will start throwing things.

Hmm. All my good intentions, but I'm wondering what would happen if I ever came face to face with one particular cousin again. I expect we would be polite. Then I would get struck by lightning on the spot for my appalling hypocrisy, because I would much prefer to spit in his eye. Or call him a thief to his face. Or at the very least cut him dead. Soulless grasping mercenary cutthroat piece of work that he is.

And, of course, I would do none of those brave - AND ENTIRELY JUSTIFIED - things because… they are not done.

Now, we - my cousin and I - live on different continents. And most of our elder shared kin are already dead. I will not expect him at my mother's funeral, and can't think of any occasion when we are likely ever to cross paths again. But if it were to happen, I would have a similar, although much less extreme, dilemma to your own. What would I do?

Well, I'm damned if I'd stay away. Who's in the wrong here, after all?

As I understand it, the big remaining problem is that you want to share in these parties but not if she's there because that ruins them, for you, but also for everyone worth caring about at what used to be joyous gatherings. And I cannot for the life of me see why it should be you who has to miss out and not her. Is that right? Do you find yourself coming back to the conclusion that "it's her or me"?

You could write her a brief letter to the effect of "I am going to [event] on [date] with mother, and I would prefer it if you could find a reason not to attend. If you wish to see mother to give her the compliments of the season, you are welcome to visit her at home instead on [suggest dates]." Never apologise, never explain.

If it provokes a phone call from her and a blazing row, good - you'll have got it out of the way beforehand. Only, stick very firmly to the you're going, she isn't policy line. Why the hell should it be you who's excluded?

If she ignores your letter and turns up anyway, you can invite her outside and ask her to leave discreetly and with her dignity intact. Or you can say with perfect truth and no need to conceal it from those present: "I did not expect to see you here." You can be totally courteous and still make it very plain that she is not welcome, not as far as you're concerned.

If there is a primary host or hostess in charge of an event, you could speak to that person and request that he or she might like to "uninvite" your sister to avoid embarrassment spoiling the party.

Michael Corleone used his sister as an intermediary when he was obliged to communicate with excommunicant family members (different sort of "Family", I grant you). Is there an understanding relative who knows you all and is sympathetic to you all and who might be prepared to mediate?

These are idle theories, but they might germinate useful ideas, I hope. If the goal is that you and your mother return to your habitual enjoyment of clan gatherings and your sister stays away, that gives you a prize to keep your eyes on. Then you have to work out a way to get to it. Stay cool, stay on the moral high ground, but stick to your guns. You're not the one who should end up feeling ashamed or in hiding.

Additional thought: what does your mother think, or what do you think she thinks, at least? Are you able to get a feeling of what she would like to happen?
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You ladies are just great. I have been thinking about everything you all said this past week and have been trying to figure out where I go from here. You all offer different insights.

Countrymouse and ladeeM: So many of your comments were reasonable about the situation. I need reasonable when my head is not always in a good space regarding my sister!

Jeannegibbs: You offer possible insight on some of the things that could be in my sister’s head. I have known my sister for 40 years, and considering who she is as a person and how she has always handled any type of adversity, I am still left believing she is a hypocrite, a fraud, a divider, and someone who is filled full of hatred. I actually feel sorry for her in some capacity because she has always lived such a hate-filled existence.

Jinx: I was previously very understanding and patient with the excuses my sister used for not helping. That only lasted for so long! After so many times of using up my life filled with doctor appointments, daily loads of pee-smelling laundry, poop clean up sessions, etc., etc., etc., the understanding turned into anger. I am more apt to turn to a voodoo doll at this point because I am done being the caring, loving, patient one! I have never done such a thing but it seems like great advice to blow off some steam.

The bottom line is I can’t stand the thought of seeing my sister. I don’t even want to be in the same house as she is. I think the biggest part of my challenge with going to family gatherings is the fact that all of the extended family knows there is major tension between my sister, my mother and myself. YOU CAN FEEL THE BAD ENERGY when we are together. I just feel embarrassed. I don’t want to put me and my mom through that and I don’t want to put my extended family through that. I feel like the three of us are the spectacle and the extended family is looking on, waiting to see what goes down. Maybe some of the extended family would use our situation for gossip. I don’t know but that is how I feel.

This all makes my heart sad.

Still trying to sort this one out…
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How can you be burned out from caregiving when you haven't done any? Burned out? She never got lit! More power to her for escaping, do you mean..???!!
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No you're not at a lower level of enlightenment, Jinx! If no one were looking I'd kick the wretched sister woman all round the house and enjoy it. Nuts to karma, I'd be ANGRY too. But then later you calm down, and you're sorry… Tsk. I'd be a useless Sicilian gangster. x
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She is burned out from caregiving, and you will be too if you take mom in. Start looking for a nursing home. Forgive her inadequacies, and put the anger aside. Focus on finding a place for mom.
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Simple-exclude her from the family gatherings if it is in your home. If not, you can chose not to participate and find alternate ways to celebrate the hollidays with your mother.
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