Just this morning, I was thinking about my cousin Lynne. My aunt – her mother – died last week after more than seven years of Alzheimer’s. Lynne has been there every step of the way. Her mother was housed in a memory care place across the street from the school where Lynne works. After a full day of working with children, Lynne stepped up for her next job – taking care of her mother. Her brother lives in another state.
And my sister-in-law’s sister, Mary Beth, has been walking alongside her mother with Alzheimer’s for about the same length of time. Her siblings all live half a continent away.
My friend Debra is the person in her family who takes care of her father’s finances and ensures that he gets the care he needs. She does this while working more than full time running a school and dealing with chronic back pain.
Now as my caregiving days are coming to an end, I have some things to say to the siblings of primary caregivers. We are – by and large – daughters.
Not a day goes by that she is not thinking about what your parent needs.
She is the recipient of the panicked phone calls.
She is the one who sits on hold at the clinic and advocates for your parent’s complicated medical needs.
She monitors your parent’s physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
She keeps tabs on your parent’s household as well as her own, making sure they have the supplies they need.
She likely manages their money and medications.
She listens to their repetitive stories and thinks of little things that will bring them pleasure.
If she needs to leave town, it requires extensive planning and preparation to make sure your parent will be okay in her absence.
And when she returns, she needs to tend to a backlog of their needs on top of her own catching up.
She turns down many social invitations in order to care for your parent.
She drives a lot.
This work costs her sleep, evenings at home, time with her own friends and family, and real money.
So, for those of you whose sister is caring for your aging parent, a few suggestions:
- Call her often to see how she is faring. Listen to her express her fatigue, frustration and/or joy. And then say thank you.
- Give her some respite time. Show up and take over completely for a few days so she can really let go.
- If you can afford it, send her a treat – a certificate for massage, a gift card to her favorite restaurant, some flowers. If there are several siblings, go in on something fine for her.
- If you’re nearby, take her out to lunch or to a concert.
My brothers recently made a tangible gesture of appreciation for the intense caregiving role I have been playing with my mother. I requested some financial support from Mom’s account to help cover my basic expenses during her dying time. With all I am handling on her behalf, I have been unable to give my full attention to my work in the past month. Their enthusiastic yes touched me deeply.
Your caregiving sister does impossible, wearing, and unpaid work every day – all on behalf of your parent. Give her some love, won’t you?