Dear Therapist Within:
My sister takes care of my parents who are still alive and in their mid 70s. Both have major medical conditions (mother-Dementia, Farther-Diabetes, Parkinsons) and need care all the time. I was helping her take care of my mother while she had an out-patient surgery this last week and experienced firsthand the condition of my mother’s mental state. My father told me my mom would start cooking things and then forget she had started and fall asleep and my farther would have to remind her. They now have to key lock the front door at night out of fear she will wander off.
My sister has two children 15 and 17 who help take care of them and the house but I think it has gotten to be too much for her and the kids to manage. I have talked to my father about moving into a care facility and he thinks it is a good idea but my sister and mother do not. So my question is how do I approach my sister who knows all the facts and has lived through this, and convince her that it is time that mom and dad move into a place where there medical and personal needs are met. Right now her whole life revolves around my parents and their care and now her children and being drawn into this quagmire.
How should I handle this little problem
ANSWER: While you can’t force things in this situation, you can provide space for your sister to vent and each time she does, encourage her to move forward into the care facility. Part of what you want to listen for is why she insists on doing all the work herself. Is she feeling guilty about something? Is she into being a “martyr?” Does she want to prove something to herself of others regarding how good and self-sacrificing she is? Do your parents still control their own finances?
You might want to talk further to your father regarding his wishes. In all likelihood, he can (or has) get power of attorney and make the decisions to move them both into a care facility. Whether or not he is willing to do so – and go against your mother’s wishes is another story. You might see an attorney to sort all that out so that both you and he know your options.
I would also start looking at potential care facilities to see if you can find one that everyone agrees is a great option – your sister, your father, even perhaps (don’t hold your breath), your mother. You can introduce this to your sister as in “we should be prepared in case the time ever comes.”
In the end, remember, you can’t rescue your sister from her own demons. If she insists on shouldering the entire burden, you can only let her do so until she finally comes to the realization that a care facility is the best alternative (or not, of course).