Ask Helen

Dear Helen: I have a dead father, a sick mother and a crazy sister. I promised my father on his deathbed to take care of my mother, who drinks and smokes too much and is now lying to her doctors after a severe medical event that landed her in ICU. My sister lives two hours away. She answers phone calls, emails and texts randomly, sometimes up to a month later. I left her multiple messages when Mom was admitted, and kept her up to date on everything. I told her I’ve been staying with Mom since her release, chauffeuring her to medical appointments, clean- ing her fridge and shopping. Now my sister has decided I am “controlling” and “interfering,” and that I have no right telling the doctors anything about my mother’s behaviors because “she’s an adult and she can say what she wants about what she puts in her body.” I feel as though the docs need to know that she mas- sively under-reports usage, and when she says she’s “stopped,” she’s means since her confinement. What do you say about communication with all of them, other than my dad to whom I relate just fine?

Hands Full!

Dear Hands Full: Stressful times bring out the best and
worst in everyone. In families where communication is already strained, what bubbles to the surface isn’t always pretty or even polite. Your biggest priority: continue to take good care of your mother. You sound like a caring and well-intentioned daughter whom she is fortunate to have close by. Re the doctors, couch the information in the form of questions, such as: What are the risks and consequences if my mother does smoke, drink, etc.? Do that within her hearing so she can hear what the doctor says, and then repeat the answer as needed. You might ask if they could do blood tests to determine residual levels of nicotine and alcohol, to see if they’re impacting her health or interfering with her medications.

Attempt a rational conversation with your sister. Explain your reasoning and efforts. Tell her you’re willing to leave her messages – phone and email – about your mother’s status, but not to be raked over the coals for being helpful. Say you’re not willing to discuss or negotiate your choices around being a good daughter. She can talk directly to your mother or to the doctor if she likes. If she tries to berate or castigate you, tell her that’s outside the boundary of your communications agreement. Be sure to stress that you’ll update her ASAP if anything changes. Be friendly and ask about her life, but hold the line where it matters to you. If she persists, say you’ll call if anything changes and end the conversation. Rinse and repeat as needed.

Dear Helen: What a crazy winter! I’ve been stranded for up to a week, sometimes without electricity and water. Any good advice before the inevitable next time?

Stir Crazy

Dear Stir Crazy: Everyone from your local utility to FEMA has ideas for disaster and emergency preparation. Basics: store potable water (and purifying tabs), nonperishable food and a wa- terproof grab bag of important papers and medications with an extra set of glasses. Think lost luggage: pack undies, socks, a hat, a toothbrush and a good book. Keep a duplicate stash in your car in case you’re stranded away from home.

Meet with your neighbors and come up with a communal plan. Everyone should come with information they’ve gathered so you can compare notes. Agree on a time frame for which you’d need to be prepared. A week seems like a reasonable worst-case esti- mate. Climate needs will suggest different supplies. You can keep frozen things cool in snow (protected from critters); heat im- poses different requirements. Look into joint ownership of a por- table generator. And keep a box or two of supplies in your garage of items like spare batteries, a crank-operated radio/cell phone charger, boxed chicken soup and milk, pet food, board games and cards, and perhaps some chocolate-covered espresso beans.

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