The Caregivers' Journey: Sibling Harmony Imperative

Marsha Kay Seff
Marsha Kay Seff

By Marsha Kay Seff

For my 65th birthday — when did I get so old? — my sister gave me a plane ticket to visit her in New York. She pointed out that we have lost Mom and Dad and Uncle Seymour and we’re pretty much all that is left of our family.

It made me think about some other siblings who once asked me to settle a squabble about how they were going to bury their dad. One insisted on an all-out military sendoff, while the other held firm for a small civilian ceremony.

I never heard what they decided, but I sure hope they took my advice. I pointed out that the type of funeral they had for their father wasn’t nearly as important as the two of them remaining close — after all, he was already gone.

Too many siblings argue their way through the caregiving years only to come to blows when the estate is divided. Then, all they’re left with are bad memories and maybe some material things.

Fortunately, for my sister, Bobbe, and me, we were able to plod through our caregiving responsibilities with respect and love for each other. Although I was the primary caregiver because I brought my parents to San Diego and my sister lives in New York, she was always there to lend moral support and perspective. She didn’t try to backseat drive or overrule my daily decisions. When I got stuck, she was a phone call or email away.

Caring for aging parents should be a time of family unity and mutual support. Bobbe and I were fortunate: Looking out for our parents brought us closer than we had been since childhood.

We’re old enough, too old, to slip into our old games, such as who made the best grades (I did), who got more boyfriends (she did) and who Mom and Dad loved more (I bet it was equal).

And so we pushed the petty rivalries aside to lift and support each other while looking out for our parents. Some siblings get bogged down in resentment, especially the primary caregiver who believes the others are doing less work. An easy way around this, I’ve discovered, is to make a list of things that need to be done and divvy them up. Even out-of-town siblings can help with some tasks.

Some families have contracts, stating who does what and what they might get paid out of the estate for their work if that becomes relevant. It helps sometimes to plan family meetings and invite a third party, such as a psychologist or trusted friend, to mediate any disputes. To avoid potential conflicts, it’s important to keep siblings informed about your parents’ ever-changing circumstances and care plan, listen to your siblings’ opinions about caregiving decisions and be willing to bend.

When the primary caregiver needs a vacation, it’s up to the others to step in.

The most important inheritance our parents left was bringing my sister and me together. Sure, family photos — that neither of us has room to hang — and the little cash that remained after years in retirement homes are nice. But our parents’ most precious gift was the love of sisters, reconnected by adult responsibilities that offered us the chance to appreciate the unique gifts both of us bring to the family circle.

Sponsored by Right at Home In-Home Care & Assistance, www.rahencinitas.com, 619-200-2110, alex@rahencinitas.com. Contact Marsha Kay Seff at mkseff@gmail.com.

   
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