Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: My brother and I are facing making some very difficult decisions for our mother, in her 90s, who lives alone still, but soon will need to be in assisted living or a nursing home.
My brother, “Calvin,” is Mom’s trustee and has her power of attorney, and he lives closer to her than I do. He visits more often, takes care of her legal affairs, and is spending a lot of time looking into long-term care options. I am very grateful for all the work he is doing. I visit Mom several times a year to help take pressure off Calvin, take Mom to doctors’ appointments, make her calls, organize her apartment, take care of issues in her condo, etc.
Tonight, she called upset that Calvin yelled at her about how much time he is spending on her, to his financial detriment. That’s his way — he emotionally ambushes people and then walks away from the damage he has done. Mom doesn’t want me to mention this latest episode to Calvin. People in the family tend to not want to confront him because they fear his anger, so he never faces the consequences of his actions.
Mom says I am the only one she can talk to about Calvin’s treatment of her, but she doesn’t want me to say anything to him or do anything about it. It’s hard to stand by and watch him treat her like that, no matter how many good things he’s doing. It’s crazy-making. Should I go against my mother’s wishes and say something to Calvin? Or just treat her complaining to me as venting?
— Mom vs. Brother
DEAR MOM VS. BROTHER: To what end would you talk to Calvin about this — to yell at him? To say, “You can’t do that”? To criticize his caregiving, when he’s giving the majority of the care?
Calvin’s emotional-ambush tactics are lousy, but don’t focus on that at the expense of giving his stress the attention it needs. He sounds overwhelmed. You’re spelling him when you can, and that’s good, but “a few times a year” is not significant respite care.
So, yes to talking to Calvin, but not about his outburst. Talk about the need to make these difficult decisions about your mother’s care sooner rather than later — because, as well as he cares for her, your mom’s needs apparently have grown beyond what he is able to, and should have to, carry alone.
Note, again — you’re not criticizing his care. Finger-pointing by the Sib Who Isn’t There can be a family-breaking offense. Just be mindful of how unfair it is that he’s been disproportionately affected by all of this, and listen to what he needs.
Also step up your involvement, assuming he’d welcome that. Go help Calvin find a good place for your mom. Research in-home and respite-care options to give Calvin some relief in the meantime. Where you can, contribute money toward this additional care. This isn’t mom vs. brother or sib vs. sib, this is mom vs. time, and mom’s side needs reinforcements.
Re: Calvin: If feasible, the family should consider hiring an elder-care case manager who can help with finding a place for mom and other issues that arise.
DEAR ANONYMOUS: Yes, thank you. U.S. Administration on Aging: eldercare.acl.gov