Long absent elder sister butts in on Mom’s care


A Nosh of Jewish Wisdom:
For the ignorant, old age is winter. For the wise, it is harvest.

 

Dear Helen:

I’m the middle of three girls. The youngest lives in Australia and is too far away to be useful, except to vent my frustrations. The elder is retired (I still work) and just moved back to town after 30 years.

I’ve been the only one coping with the daily dramas of an aging mother, who recently had a third stroke in addition to other medical issues. It took me six months to convince Mom to install some bathroom modifications that (a) she needs now, and (b) she must have in place to avoid long and expensive stays in rehab after inevitable future medical events, as they won’t release her to home care without them.

Sis showed up, cavalierly said “Oh that seems extreme” and suddenly all my months of advocating for non-crisis planning went out the window. How can I get her to see I know more, and I’m not the wrong vote?

Hamstrung

 

Dear Hamstrung:

You need to re-establish new ground rules for communication that are more sophisticated than “older knows best.” She needs to understand what you’ve learned from your experience as the primary caretaker. That means sitting her down and laying out the landscape from what she sees as current day-to-day issues, and what happens during and after a crisis.

The biggest ground rule should be this: whenever something comes up, whichever of you is with your mother says, “Let’s think about that a little.” Then the two of you go off and parley until you agree. No one lets your mother play one against the other, and no one speaks with authority about house or health until you both agree.

For my money, anything that is non-crisis planning is a good choice. That includes retrofitting the house to avoid being placed in medical facilities, and organizing regular phone and visit schedules. Your mom is lucky to have two loving daughters so close.

 

Dear Helen:

I have a friend who started a wonderful new romance. That is to say, it was wonderful when she started. She was like a teenager again. Note she is in her early 50s. But she was giggling and telling stories, and probably half or more of her sentences began with “Bob … .” Now, six months in, she is still talking about “Bob,” but the stories have turned darker. He “doesn’t like me having so many nights out with my friends, doesn’t approve of my choices in political candidates or who I donate to, thinks I should invest with his broker” and so on.

I am concerned for her emotional well-being, her assets and possibly even her safety. I was in an abusive relationship when I was much younger, and this has all the classic signals of someone who is trying to control her. How should I respond? Do you think I am over-reacting?

Concerned

 

Dear Concerned:

Not at all! I would be equally concerned if I saw this happening to someone in my circle. If you need a reality check, however, ask a mutual friend if she has any similar observations or concerns and listen to what she says about what she is seeing.

Your friend in the relationship with Bob will probably feel ganged up on if you both talk to her at the same time. But if you individually meet her for a meal and express your concerns, you will probably get her attention. Don’t be shy about identifying websites with tips for people in abusive relationships and cautions for seniors about financial advisors.

Most importantly, tell her she has 24/7/365 access to you if she ever feels unsafe. Assure her you love her, but be 100% clear about your concerns. Have your other friend, or even more than one, do the same, perhaps spaced out every few weeks. If it is as bad as you suggest, she will learn. I hope it isn’t the hard way. If you see escalation, do a formal intervention.

 

A resident of Eugene since 1981, Helen Rosenau is a member of Temple Beth Israel. She’s a student of Torah and an artist (kabbalahglass.com), a writer (yourjewishfairygodmother.com), and the author of The Messy Joys of Being Human: A Guide to Risking Change and Becoming Happier.

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