the art of caring for your aging loved one


Oh Brother! Oh Sister!

No matter how valiantly you try to keep your brothers and sisters informed of your Aging Loved One's general condition, one of them is bound to claim that you are pushy, trying to take over, keeping others in the dark, and so on.

It isn't always hunky-dory. Any sibling issues you may have had in the past will come back to bite you.

Remember ... someone sent out a call for help and you answered the call, likely by default.

You could try to head them off at the pass by calling a family meeting, a conference call, an email chat. Open The File. Let them see what you've been doing and observing.

  • Show them the names of contacts you've acquired.
  • Show them your list of observations.
  • Show them your calendar that appears to be increasingly filled with appointment dates for your Aging Loved One.
  • Offer to surrender The File and the responsibilities.

The odds are that you won't be overwhelmed with takers.

You may, to your surprise and delight, discover that a shy, reticent sibling is waiting to be asked to help. React quickly but gently.

Ask for Suggestions

Accept them if they are sensible and helpful.

If they don't advance the cause or if the offer is vague, explain that you have taken care of the paperwork willingly and would be grateful for some meals for Dad and Mum, for example. Or baking. Or help with grocery shopping or trips to the bank or pharmacy. Or "I've neglected my husband. John and I need some time together. Would you mind being on call for a couple of weeks while we go away? I'll leave The File and calendar with you. It contains all the important names and phone numbers."

You may be the one with the reins because the rest of the family lives "afar." Your contact with them will be by phone and/or email. Set up the Telephone Tree. Explain that phoning is more personal and you'll try to call with updates.

Tell them that you will send group email messages when necessary. Send the same message to each family member and a copy to yourself for your records. Include in the message, "All suggestions welcomed and implemented if/when appropriate."

Your siblings may be thrilled that you're available to do the job. Some may be happy and others may resent what they perceive as interference. Again, offer to hand over The File. "I am willing to carry on caring for Gran. Should you wish to take over, please speak up. We can't afford to have any hard feelings in our family."

Expect to be involved in a flurry of phone calls to siblings and other concerned relatives at the beginning of this caregiving journey and especially at crisis times. Generally, the topics are less than appealing. "Mum fell. She's in hospital. No, I don't know when she'll be out or if she'll be able to go back to her home. I'll let you know when I learn something. The staff is extremely busy with patients like Mum. They asked that we choose one contact person and then relay information on our Telephone Tree. It makes sense to me."

Good News Messages

As often as time permits, make a point of mixing in some good news. You may have to dig deeply in order to find it. Here are some suggestions:

  • We had an encouraging report from the doctor today.
  • Dad had lunch today with an old friend.
  • The new eyeglasses have made a huge improvement in Dad's sight!
  • Mum is happy with her new caregivers ... she loves her bath board.
  • The sweater you sent is perfect and Gran treasures it.
  • The birthday flowers are beautiful. Auntie has enjoyed them for a week.
  • Dad's new neighbours at the retirement home included him in a card game last night.
  • Thanks for polishing all of Uncle's shoes! It gave him a lift.
  • Thanks for sending the recent photos of your baby. Nana loves to talk about her grandchildren.
  • Gramps studied the clipping from your newspaper. He's following the political situation.
  • Our visit to the lawyer/accountant went smoothly today. All seems in order; only one little detail remains for the next visit.

It feels good to be the bearer of good news. You'll contribute to better family communication, also.

A Ponderable

Cassandra: Dang her sister for being so bossy and trying to make her feel guilty. It wasn’t Cassandra’s fault Mama had decided to take off in the middle of the night like that. Cassandra looked at the clock. Well, maybe not the middle of the night, but ten o’clock was late enough for both of them to be in bed asleep. She was allowed to sleep, wasn’t she? Was she supposed to keep her eyes open twenty-four hours a day? It was so easy for Ruth Ann to act all high and mighty about it, but she didn’t have to live with Mama, be insulted day and night, make sure she didn’t run off or set the house on fire.

Cassandra: Ruth Ann, what would you think about Mama staying with your for a while? ... We could just see how it goes like that for a while.... I’ve been living with Mama forty-two years now and I’m tired of it. I want to get out on my own before I get too old, and I think it’s high time the rest of this family stopped taking me for granted and pitched in and helped out just a little bit.

“Moon Women” by Pamela Duncan, Delacort Press, New York, NY. c. 2001