Dear Donna:

My 91 year old mother suffers from advanced diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. Both make it difficult for her to care for herself. But she insists on staying in her home in Holland, Michigan instead of moving to senior living. She has lived there for almost 60 years. The problem is that my brother just won’t help with her care. We both live equal distances from her, but he won’t even take her to doctor’s appointments. I love my mother and want to care for her. That isn’t the issue. But I have a busy job and two children still living at home. There just aren’t enough hours in my day to be her only caregiver! I am getting more and more resentful of my brother. I am afraid I will say something I really regret if he doesn’t start helping.

-Melissa in Muskegon, Michigan

Dear Melissa:

You are a classic example of someone trying to survive the “sandwich”. A term we use to describe the generation sandwiched between aging parents’ needs and those of their own children. In your case, you have the added stress of a sibling who won’t help. In almost every family we work with across the state of Michigan, one child bears the primary responsibility of caregiving. Most of the time it is the adult daughter or daughter-in-law.

I have a few ideas for you to try:

  • Ask your brother to meet you to talk about your mother.  Have the meeting in a neutral place. Somewhere that you can talk without interruption.
  • Prepare a list of activities you do for your mother and things you know need to be done but you haven’t had time to do. Even little things like picking up prescriptions should be on the list.
  • Really give some thought beforehand to what he could do to help. Maybe lawn care or household repairs? What jobs will he be most likely to do on a routine basis?
  • Sit down with your brother and share your concerns and your list with him in a respectful way. This may be difficult to do given how much resentment you are feeling towards him. Just remember, your goal is to get him to agree to help without forever damaging your relationship.
  • Listen to what he has to say. You may find that fear is keeping him from helping your mother. Maybe you can arrange to meet at your mother’s house together to work on projects for her. Easing him in to caregiver responsibilities may give him time to adapt to the changes in your mother that have frightened him away.
  • Try to divide up the task list and talk about dates and deadlines. Leaving the meeting with a definite plan will help.
  • If all else fails, you have two options. You can hire a family mediator to help resolve your differences. Or you can accept that he won’t help and move on without him. That will be hard to do, but continuing to live with resentment will put your own health at risk.

Best of luck, Melissa! Please feel free to call one of the Heritage Senior Communities in Holland  if you have any questions or need more advice on senior living.