Dealing with family when someone is dying
February 12, 2013 7:05 AM   Subscribe

It appears my Dad is in the process of dying - I'm mostly okay with that, but really struggling with the rest of my family. Could use some words of wisdom.

(Forgive me the length in advance) So, around this time last year, my Dad was hospitalised with a possible heart attack. He has been in and out of hospital ever since, and was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, he has a lot of fluid on his lungs, and he's getting worse and worse in terms of quality of life. He is in the process of dying, it's pretty clear. The medication is not particularly helpful, his breathing sounds like cellophane, and he's unable to sleep very much, and when he does apparently he stops breathing altogether for periods.

I live a 90 minute plane ride away.

I am - so far as one can be - okay with my Dad dying. He (and I!) are relatively young, 68 and 32 respectively. But I grew up in the country; I saw a lot of non-negative death as a youngster and whilst saddened I understand that when you gotta go, you gotta go. Dad and I are talking (not about him dying), and all's pretty good there.

The problem is my family. I am one of four kids, and I am really struggling in my interactions with my eldest sister, who lives in the same town as my Dad now. This is hitting her really hard, I think. We talk a lot by the phone in my family, and I'm used to talking to her once or twice a week. The problem is, every time we talk, sooner or later (usually sooner), she ends up saying, "I want to talk to you about Dad."

What follows is her crying, insisting that he is dying, and on death's door, and a sometimes-direct-sometimes-indirect implication that I should go home as soon as possible. There are a few problems with this, from my perspective.

1) I feel like a huge bastard for this. Her grief makes me feel uncomfortable. My Dad is not dead; he may be dead tomorrow, but he may be dead in a year's time, or more. Most likely it's somewhere in-between those points, but it's killing me (metaphorically). All she wants to talk about is him dying, like I don't understand or something. I fucking understand. Just because I am not there, I understand. Also, I feel like, weirdly, she is ruining him not being dead for me. He's still okay, can talk, and walk, and think, and read. I don't want to worry about how upset I'm gonna be when dies, before he dies.

2) I feel guilty, or that she is accusing me of not caring, or doing the right thing. I feel judged. I do not know if this is in my head. It's probably 50-50. My sister doesn't earn very much, as a result she thinks everyone else is rich. But our mortgage is 3 times the size of hers, as we live in the city and she lives in the country. I have an infant child. I received a promotion at a reasonably demanding corporate job literally two weeks ago. I need to perform, as a parent, partner, and worker. I am not putting my father and our relationship over these things, but nor can I ignore these things over the probably several months (it has been a year already, after all) he will be in the course of dying. I can't do it. (We are going there at easter).

My sister - I love her - but she is not very understanding/empathetic of other modes of thought/living. There has always been one right way, and all the other wrong ways for her. This bias to judgmentalism is unfortunately at its worst when she is stressed, and it's starting to colour her interactions with the rest of the family. I am somewhat of a peace-maker in the family. She will need me for this, but I don't know how I good I can be at it, I'm getting so stressed out talking to her myself, I don't know how well I can smooth things for everyone else. Also, I don't know why she keeps having this conversation from me, if she expects me to mirror her attitude, or change what I'm doing or how I'm feeling. She wants something from me and I can't give it to her.

I know everyone needs to grieve their own way, and prepare their own way. I guess I feel stymied in attempting to do that for myself at the moment. It makes me not want to talk to my sister - it makes me nervous at the prospect of her coming to visit us for a week soon. If she spends the whole time talking about Dad I am gonna lose my shit.

It's making me feel anxious and unpleasant about what happens when he does die. This is not what I want to feel about my father's death. The thought of having to go there, endure loads of people projecting their grief and needs on to me, and ideally I just want to go somewhere quiet and think about my dad and cherish our memories and all that's he's given me - I'm not being able to do that already, I feel. And I certainly won't be able to do that with all the theatre of a funeral (theatre is fine, and very helpful for some people, but not for me. I'm somewhat introverted, I need to spend lots of time with myself to sort out myself in general, and definitely now. When you have an infant, that kind of time is in short supply, and it's selfish to take too much).

I feel like I'm being more upset about the imposition of his dying on me, than his actual dying - which is like, selfish, and sick. I'm not just a parent, partner, worker; I'm a brother and son, and I don't want to let my family down.

I need, I don't know. Something. Some strategies, or context, or advice or something. All I want to do now is keep talking to my dad several times a week as I'm doing, not talk to my sister at all, and try to play with my kid and not flame out in my new role at work. Instead, I'm getting more and more tense.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
My deepest sympathies; this sounds like a very difficult (and trying) time.

You don't specify whether you've actually come out and said to your sister that you understand that yes, your father is dying, that you have come to terms with that on your own, and that it sounds like she needs help - preferably not from you - in processing that as well.

I'm an extrovert and I process things by talking about them. If your sister feels like you're a safe person to talk to, and she's similarly extroverted, this might be her attempt to process this for herself more than an attempt to force you to grieve the way she does.

You might consider asking your sister outright why she wants to talk/cry about your dad. Is it really that she wishes you were acting differently, or is it just that she needs to talk to someone who she thinks will understand? Her answer might give you a good idea of how to move forward, from telling her that you can only be her "processing other" one day a week, or whatever, to telling her firmly that you and your father are satisfied with your role in this whole situation, and that you look forward to seeing them all at Easter.
posted by SeedStitch at 7:21 AM on February 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

You can't make your sister deal with this any better, and you can't do anything about your father so "going home" wouldn't really accomplish much. Basically, you can just listen to your sister, and try not to let her get to you with the understanding that she speaks out of pain.

If you can't stoically give her an ear, you need to stop letting the conversation go that way. That will probably not help your relationship with her, but we all need to look out for #1 before we can work on saving the rest of the world.

I feel like I'm being more upset about the imposition of his dying on me, than his actual dying - which is like, selfish, and sick.

Not selfish or sick, but perfectly normal. We necessarily view the world by how it affects us. The sooner you accept the limitations of our biology, the more emotional resources you'll have available for those around you.
posted by pla at 7:22 AM on February 12, 2013 [6 favorites]

It's possible she just wants to express her feelings, and you don't really have to do more than just listen to her. It does sound like you would benefit from having a more explicit discussion with her about your own fears and feelings about the situation. You aren't doing anything wrong, but it's quite possible that you can't both do things the way you want and make your sister feel good about that decision (ie maintain the peace).

Losing a parent is very tough, but one thing I hadn't realised until it happened to me is how much it forces you into new interactions with your siblings. Those can be good or bad, and you may have to accept that there's going to be some upheaval there too. Eventually things will settle down again, but in the meantime you can only try to be honest and kind, and understand that your feelings about your dad are just as valid as your sister's and you don't have to be the peacemaker at all times.
posted by crocomancer at 7:27 AM on February 12, 2013

I'm so sorry you're having to deal with this. Saying goodbye to a parent is really hard, without having a constant grief/guilt trip laid on you by a bystanding relative.

The best I can think is that you should talk your sister directly about this -- both that you are well aware that Dad is dying, and that she is sad about that (as you are), but that you'd like to feel that the family was supporting each other in a hard time, not making things harder. Make clear that if supporting her is going to interfere with your ability to enjoy your father's company while he's still alive, you're going to pick your father for the time being and repair your sibling relationship later. There's just too much on your plate right now, and you're perfectly reasonable in protecting some space for your (proximal) life needs.

Maybe that means you don't talk to her at all, or maybe it means when she says "I need to talk to you about dad," you say "I think we can't do that; we each need other support networks right now to handle this in our own ways." It wont' be an easy conversation, but you can't fix her problems, only balance your wish to support her with your need to survive yourself. Good luck.
posted by acm at 7:29 AM on February 12, 2013

I am so sorry for the pain your family is going through. It sounds like you have a lot on your plate at the present and that can make coping with a situation like this so much more difficult.

I agree with SeedStitch; it seems like the best way to start to hammer this out with your sister is to be compassionate (as you have been), but perhaps a bit more direct. Everyone grieves in their own way, and being in closer proximity to your father may be making this a different experience for her. The next time she brings this up, ask her what you can do that would be helpful to her. Have her clarify for you what she needs. Does she need someone just to listen? Does she need support to help care for your dad? Some time off? Once you know what she needs, you can clarify for her what you can and cannot do. It's ok to set some boundaries in a loving way, but at the same time maybe you two can come up with some ways to support her at the same time. You could specify that you want to limit the amount of time you talk about his death, but that you will continue to be in close contact. You could help her find a therapist or support group who can provide more of an open ear. You could set specific times you will visit (Easter and perhaps something in the future). You can help her or your mother find someone to help with caregiving or respite. It's also ok to be specific about what you need and why you are responding the way that you are. Telling her some of the things you wrote above provide a very clear and loving perspective on how you are processing his health issues.

I think it's wonderful that you are making the focus the time you have with your father. We all will die one day, but what makes life worthwhile is focusing on the wonderful things and relationships you have while you are lucky enough to be alive. Continue to make an effort to care for yourself. I wish all the best for you and your family.
posted by goggie at 7:30 AM on February 12, 2013

I'm sorry for the loss of father.

I think it might be a really good idea if your sister talked to a grief counselor who can help her through her feelings about his passing and everything that comes afterward. To be honest, I also think talking to a grief counselor might be beneficial to you for the same reasons. I really encourage you to try it out. From your post, you seem overwhelmed and stressed from external life pressures, and it sounds like you are (understandably) struggling with a mix of feelings about how your dad's death and your family's reaction to it will affect your life. Frankly, those kinds of things can get in the way of your ability to just process the actual thing itself--the death of a loved one. These things can be easier to talk through with an impartial third party who is only there to help you.

My best to you and all of your family right now.
posted by anonnymoose at 7:39 AM on February 12, 2013

Here is the nuts and bolts of it; you can't stop your father dying with your presence. Meanwhile, your child and partner depend on you every day, which means keeping your job. Coming back home and waiting for the end is just not possible.

I ran into a similar situation with my sister; she was upset that I didn't fly my mother in when I had my son, especially since my mother-in-law did fly in, and accused me of hurting my mother's feelings. I told her bluntly that it was not about "choosing" between them, it was about my poverty at the time, that did not allow buying other people plane tickets. MIL could afford it. My mom couldn't. I had talked to my mother about this, and she appeared to understand. Sister had genuinely not thought of this, and the issue was dropped. I flew home with my son and spent time with my mother not long thereafter, when I had the cash.

Possibly your sister really doesn't understand your situation re your job and family. Maybe you can explain it to her. Maybe she just hasn't thought of it. I would leave the emotional part out, in terms of her feelings and yours.

Which leads to my other point; it sounds like she is the only local sibling for your dad. Correct? That is a huge burden to bear; she is seeing it happen day to day, you are only getting updates. If your other siblings aren't there, the same goes for them. No doubt she feels overwhelmed in dealing with this all alone, and possibly even resents it. This happens all the time.

It would be a great thing for you, as a brother, to send her something periodically to help; pay for a cleaning service, send her flowers, or a gift certificate, or take on some of the expenses she might be incurring in helping care for your dad. Let her know you understand that being the only sibling there is the hardest job and that you really really appreciate her.

Also, you might tell your sister that you understand her grief, but that she might get more out of talking to a pastor or therapist who can help her deal with the anxiety and sadness; even if you were there, you aren't a therapist and she would probably need more than your comfort.
posted by emjaybee at 7:53 AM on February 12, 2013 [13 favorites]

Which leads to my other point; it sounds like she is the only local sibling for your dad. Correct? That is a huge burden to bear; she is seeing it happen day to day, you are only getting updates. If your other siblings aren't there, the same goes for them. No doubt she feels overwhelmed in dealing with this all alone, and possibly even resents it. This happens all the time.

Speaking as the only local sibling whose father just died in November under fairly similar circumstances, this.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:01 AM on February 12, 2013 [11 favorites]

My sister lives a mile away from our aging parents, I'm 5 states and a plane ride away. She deals with everything day to day. I defer to her on everything pertaining to them.

Also, I make an effort to see my folks as often as I can. (They all get on my last nerve, but I do love them.)

I know when my grandmother was dying, we all went for visits as frequently as we could. Long weekends, school breaks, etc.

So here's the thing, while your dad is around, make an effort to get to the country with your family. If a plane ride is expensive, consider renting a car and driving. If it's too hard for the whole family, look for deals where you can go alone, even for a day or two.

No one says you have to sit there and hold his hand and say everything you ever wanted to say. But it might be nice if you go for his birthday, or father's day or Memorial Day weekend. I'm also pretty sure he'd love to see your little-one!

You won't regret making the effort, I promise.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:19 AM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Speaking as the only local sibling whose father just died in November under fairly similar circumstances, this.

Yes, I have to echo this. My 87-year old mother has had an operation and continuing health problems the past 8 months or so. I have been the only one of 3 siblings to help out. I was (and still am somewhat) resentful that neither of my siblings came to help out with my mom (and neither lives very far away) or to give me a break. One said that my mother had told her she didn't need her to come, and I had to very forcefully explain that the reason she said that is because I was there all the time (taking time off from work, etc.). I was just emotionally and physically spent.
posted by la petite marie at 8:20 AM on February 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

You can't change your siblings. You can listen. You can shrug. You can try to not take things personally.

I understand your position. When my mom was declining, I was the only one of my siblings who read in between the lines of her veiled email and responded "This is terminal - I'm very sorry. Let's see what we can do with the time remaining." I was the closest geographically, but that was still several hours by car. One of my brothers was a transatlantic flight away.

What I did with her, with the advice of people who are in the know, was spent time talking to her and having her get her affairs in order. I also tried to interpret what she meant which was different from what she said. People are so screwy. My mom had pleural effusion and needed her lungs drained, so I ignored her when she said "don't bother coming down" and spent the day with her in the hospital.

This means putting all the paperwork (insurance, bank accounts, investments, birth certificate, etc) in order. I can't stress that enough. My mom did an excellent job of this and it made the aftermath so much easier. Passwords - get passwords for online accounts! And holy cow, find a way to lock down his bank accounts and credit cards. There is usually a window between death and when executorship takes over and in the case of my mom, there was an criminal organization that tapped into the death database and correlated it to a bank card and drained my mom's account and we couldn't do anything about it until executorship took effect.

This means putting the valuables aside somewhere safe (there will be tons of people drifting in and out at the end - no reason to make it any easier). In all things you should do a "trust but verify".

This means speaking to a lawyer about a will and what he wants done. For example, my mom made it 100% clear that she wanted no interventions except for comfort. We found out what quirks there are in her state - and there are - and we found out how to manage them.

This means finding out what kind of service he wants and who he would like to be there and to start contacting them. This was very important for my mom and we interpreted her wishes as best we could. When she was dying and unconscious, her doctor told us that while she might not be responsive, she could still hear, so we called her sister and her best friend - people who couldn't be there but wanted to be - and let them say good bye to her over the phone. I can't tell you how important this was to her sister.

My mom, God bless her, knew her sons very well. She had assigned us specific tasks and each of them brought out the best in us. For example, my oldest brother - by far the most personable of us - was responsible for contacting people when she was in her last 24 hours. Neither I nor my other brother could have done this as well. My other brother was assigned to be executor after she passed away. He navigated the bureaucracy of NJ perfectly in order to do what was necessary as well honor her wishes.

I was her health care proxy and that brought out my detail-oriented nature in honoring her wishes in terms of medication and care. In typical circumstances when someone enters the hospital on death's door, there is someone who performs a denomination appropriate ritual. I checked and we couldn't verify that my mom had had extreme unction (although I believe it is called anointing the sick now), so I insisted it be done and that she had her rosary in her hand. One of my brothers raised an eyebrow to which I said, "God won't mind if it happens twice." This was good for all of us, I think. We were all crying when it was done and I'm on the verge now, even though it was several years ago.

Best wishes to you. You will do what you can. Emotional times make people get unstrung in unpredictable ways, but it's OK. In our case, it usually brought out our best when it was truly needed.
posted by plinth at 8:20 AM on February 12, 2013 [6 favorites]

Dealing with death and dying long distance is a much easier thing sometimes than having to deal with it daily. There's a constant reminder of it. His breathing labored, straining to stay alive. It's depressing and it's really tough. So try to be a little more understanding of what her situation is and then you can hope she understands yours.

You're at peace with him dying (as much as you can be), she clearly is not. Help her in any way you can. Be kind and understanding. Be clear with her why you feel the way you do and that you acknowdlege the pressures she is feeling.

She needs to lean on someone. She's leaning, in part, on you.
posted by inturnaround at 8:32 AM on February 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Anon., I am so sorry that this is happening. So very, very sorry.

One thing that you don't mention in your question is a diagnosis -- have you had a report from your father's physician(s) about his prognosis? You might yet come to the point where hospice would be a help to both your father and your family; please consider it as a possibility if it seems relevant. My own anecdotal experience was that there was a helpline to call 24/7, and help with managing medications, as well as home visits from nurses. Having that support structure was an enormous help.

Your eldest sister sounds overwhelmed in every respect. If you cannot be there, can you send her a cleaning service? Meals? Can you get her friends to take her out, her counselor (if applicable) to talk to her? Restaurant gift certificates?

Don't feel guilty for making the most of the time that you still have with your father, whatever form it may take.

Can you say to your sister some variant of "I can help you with the legal stuff, but I can't be the vessel for your anger and grief in the way that you need me to be"? It sounds rdiciulous to say don't judge her for being judgmental...but I think you can only maintain your own boundaries here, and suggest alternatives, and not hope for her to change her outlook. Is there a way to make a specific and limited time during her visit to have tough conversations -- perhaps balancing her need to be away from the situation with her clear need to process it with you? It's not time yet to fear what will be required from you in the rituals surrounding your father's funeral; put that on the back burner for now.

I'm trying to say this gently... there will be time, later, for guilt. Now is not the time for it. Now is the time to connect with your father in the way that you're doing. You have to balance all the things, simultaneously, and it is fucking hard to do that on a good day. But trying while eaten up by guilt? That is so much worse. You have my blessing, for the little it's worth, to put aside guilt and work on coping. To set boundaries with your sister while helping her in whatever other ways you can. Connect with him. Maintain boundaries with her. Do what you are able to do in this terrible time. I wish you strength.
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:37 AM on February 12, 2013

I don't have any strategies to offer, or particular advice. But if it would help at all to talk with somebody who went through a similar circumstance, you're welcome to send me a MeFi Mail.

Good luck to you and your family. I'm sorry for your circumstance.
posted by cribcage at 10:11 AM on February 12, 2013

Just putting this idea out there, I am not saying that this is the problem, but that maybe there is just of this in there, I wonder if by being further away you are a little insulated from the day to day of watching someone you love slowly die. You are lucky in that, you get to keep the vision of your Dad in your head that you have, you don't see the day to day struggles or have to deal with the boring shit or his bad times, when he hasn't pulled himself together to talk to you for a little bit on the phone and is now recovering from the effort. Your sister is watching your father slowly die day by day and I wonder if some of your angry at her is she reminds you of the fact. You are angry that your Dad is dying and you are feeling guilty and scared and well she is the messenger that reminds you of that and while you are talking to her can't loose your self in your busy life.

My father took 2 years to die from lung cancer, he and my mother moved in with me for those 2 years and I spend every day with him. My brother was basically you, he visited once a week if that for an hour, even though he lived 15 minutes away, and he lost himself in his work and his family for that time. He would not believe me for the longest time about how bad Dad was because for the short time he was there or when he rang, Dad would rally and talk about the good stuff and sound much better than he was. I was the one left with the day to day of keep Dads oxygen machine working, supporting mum, taking him to doctors appointments, making dinner.

It is hard and it is emotionally draining in a way you will never imagine, all you have to do to help is suck it up and listen to your sister vent a little so she can carry on. She's not asking you for help, she's asking you to listen, and to tell her yes it sucks but she's not alone. I get that your life is busy and that you would like to carry on as if nothing is happening, but here is the thing, this is happening even if you ignore it. Help your sister in some way, even if it's just listening to her.
posted by wwax at 10:45 AM on February 12, 2013 [7 favorites]

Which leads to my other point; it sounds like she is the only local sibling for your dad. Correct? That is a huge burden to bear; she is seeing it happen day to day, you are only getting updates. If your other siblings aren't there, the same goes for them. No doubt she feels overwhelmed in dealing with this all alone, and possibly even resents it. This happens all the time.

I have been here, and being the only one in town really, really sucks. You talk about grieving, when in fact, I don't think this has anything to do with grieving at all. I think she is just overwhelmed and exhausted, both physically and emotionally.

Nobody is saying you need to drop everything and move to be with your dad (your family and career circumstances make this pretty difficult) but I would suggest that you at least consider how difficult it is to be there, be involved in dad's care, and watch this process on a daily basis. You've hinted as much yourself: you don't want to be there. People rarely do. It's not fun watching the people who brought you into the world and loved you in your earliest, most vulnerable days die by inches. But somebody has to, and whether by default or not, your sister has the job. That is worthy of a bit more respect than you're allowing her, I think.

Yep, it sucks big time. Worse yet, this can go on for years, to the point where it can and does kill the caregivers. And who does your sister have to talk to about it? If she doesn't have you, it's highly unlikely she has anybody else. As a loved one approaches the end, it becomes more and more about those left behind.

Try to be magnanimous, big of heart. Imagine yourself in her situation and consider how you would feel about that. Deal with your feelings by thinking up the best possible ways that you can help her given your circumstances and make her life a bit easier in this difficult time. Maybe something over and above what you are doing now. Care for your sister in whatever ways you can. It's often hardest for the eldest.

And above all: be grateful that she is doing it, so that you don't have to.
posted by rhombus at 11:24 AM on February 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

Yes, I forgot to mention, I am available for MeMail too, if you want to talk.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:37 AM on February 12, 2013

I am really, really sorry you are going through this.

Which leads to my other point; it sounds like she is the only local sibling for your dad. Correct? That is a huge burden to bear; she is seeing it happen day to day, you are only getting updates. If your other siblings aren't there, the same goes for them. No doubt she feels overwhelmed in dealing with this all alone, and possibly even resents it. This happens all the time.

This. It sounds like you have made peace with the idea that your father is going to die. Your sister is watching him die.

My sister doesn't earn very much, as a result she thinks everyone else is rich. But our mortgage is 3 times the size of hers, as we live in the city and she lives in the country.

I'm not entirely sure how this is relevant, unless your sister is helping to pay for your father's care right now, or is worrying about taking on the expense as his health declines, or having him move in with her. Perhaps you need to have a conversation with your family about how your father's care is going to be paid for.

How is your sister's support network in her town? Does she have friends, other family members, etc? Aside from helping out to sort out your dad's legal and financial issues, you could also consider helping your sister find a local support group for caregivers.
posted by inertia at 12:26 PM on February 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is so tough--I've been there with both my parents. With my mom, I was the one living in the same house with periodic visits from my siblings. One sister felt incredibly guilty for not being there as she lives across the country but would come whenever she could. Just a guess but I'm wondering if your sister is feeling the burden of having to tell you when to come home or you will miss the chance to see your dad alive? I know I was feeling that as the person who was seeing my mom day-to-day. I would always be saying, "now I'm not psychic and I don't know, but I think things have gotten worse and.." I felt the guilt/burden that somehow if I didn't communicate how things were, or if I minimized things, one of my siblings would miss their chance to see her. Perhaps you could clarify things with your sister, like "I just want you to know that I really wish I could be there with you and dad. I'm feeling so conflicted and I've had to make peace with myself that I may not get to see dad, that anything can happen while I'm here working and taking care of baby X. I don't want you to feel like you have to tell me when to come home."

Also I don't know if she's taking care of stuff for your dad, but it made me feel better when my siblings thanked me for taking care of things. I knew they wanted to be there more but couldn't for various reasons. Your sister may be managing a lot of family and friend communication for your dad, running to the pharmacy, going to doctor appointments. It's just A LOT on top of your own feelings about your parent passing away. It's just a small thing but it means a lot.
posted by biscuits at 12:26 PM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Been there, done this with my dad, except I was you and my mother was your sister. The problem here is that you two react in the opposite way. I was you: he's going to die, I accept that, I'd rather he not suffer any longer. I had less of an emotional reaction, my feelings died off (so to speak), I was a stone. My mom was bleeding and crying inside and out, she believed and believed that there was hope no matter what was happening, and she was the caregiver while I wasn't because I lived 90 minutes away. I did a daily phone call with her for over a year after my dad went into the hospital so she could get her rant and pain on, and I started to lose the will to live because that drained me dry. And she always expects everyone else will think and react in the same way that she does, and it is A Problem if you don't.

In my experience, there's always the person who bleeds and cries and does the caregiving and nurturing, and then there's a person who's a "cold bastard" around to compensate for them and ask the hard questions of the doctor and step in when the other person is crying. Nature's compensation, I guess. Someone has to do it.

Unfortunately, what worked for me in this situation--group therapy and dragging my mom to my shrink with me several times, distance be damned--probably won't fly for you. But in our case, we needed a mediator to tell her that it was okay to react differently and it didn't mean I was a total cold bastard. And I'm guessing that having your sister see a therapist on her own isn't going to fly either? She needs to talk to someone else, I hope that you are not her ONLY outlet in this situation. At the very least, how's it going with your other two siblings?

I think the way you're handling things now may be the best way to handle it for yourself. She's going to be unhappy with you and how you react to this no matter what you do, and trying to act the way she wants you to won't please her and will make you miserable. If you can't give her enough--and I know how that goes--then the only person you can take care of here is yourself. Limit the amount of time you talk to her, say "I only have an hour and then I have to go to an appointment" or something like that that enforces an end to the conversation. Have designated days for her to cry at you rather than every day. I have no advice on the week long visit, though, other than to schedule times away from the house.

Good luck. You have my sympathies on this one.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:41 PM on February 12, 2013

"When we talk about this, do you mostly just want a listening ear? Because I can provide that. But if you're trying to talk me into coming home before Easter, I have to tell you that I've made my mind up on this topic. I have a family to support here, and I talk to Dad on the phone several times a week, and I'm at peace with my decision. So I want to ask you to respect that, too."
posted by feets at 1:22 AM on February 13, 2013

« Older Stick it out or move on from this unequal...   |   How to repair my Sigg water bottle? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.