Dear Liz,

My mother had a stroke in January that left her either unable or unwilling to walk.  She is 80-years-old and, until the stroke, lived alone. After rehab, she moved in with my brother (who had multiple strokes last august) and his family, against the wishes of me and my older brother.  We know our mom is hard to live with and worried the added burden to an already overburdened family would be a bad scenario.  Now after she has lived with them for four months, I am constantly getting calls from my nephew complaining about the burden of taking care of my mom. My other brother has an invalid wife plus his own health issues and cannot care for her. I live 240 miles away, have my own medical issues and a full house with my daughter and grandkids, and do not have the ability to care for her. She has a house that has sat empty now for seven months full of junk (to me and the family) that we have to deal with as well. What do I do? I feel as if my nephew feels it’s my turn to deal with her.

Cincinnati, Ohio


Dear Cincinnati,

Thank you for writing in and sharing what I know can be the most challenging and emotionally debilitating experience for family’s in this country. There are thousands of people wracked with question and uncertainty as to how to best handle our ageing parents.

Love and practicality can sometimes feel impossible.  Our parents are the people who unconditionally love us throughout the course of our lives.  Some are better at it than others, but the bottom line is that they are there for us through all of it, good, bad, right, wrong, difficult and easy.  If you turn that upside down, you can see this is where you and your siblings are right this very moment with your mother.  She is your mother and between you, you have figured out a way to show your support, your love and your commitment to her.  Sharing the responsibility with your siblings is a blessing for which you can feel grateful.

You feel as though your nephew feels, “It is your turn to deal with her”.  You must remind yourself,as difficult and overwhelming and life changing as the burden may feel for you, It is a test for all of us to put ourselves behind the needs of our ageing parents.  The time for which we must do this is limited, clearly…they are coming to the ending of their lives.  As wrapped up and confined as we may feel in our own lives, my suggestion to many has been,  think of this person in life as a baby.  Would we all be too busy, too ill, too tired, and too fraught to deal with an infant?

I suggest you all sit down together and really look at this.  Practically speaking what would be the best for you guys and for your mom. Together you must come up with a plan that works.  You mention she has a home filled with things you must go through.  Could you sell some stuff, her house, some of her things to bring in some finances you may need to begin to tackle this issue realistically?

You must have a real conversation with your nephew and come up with a plan of relief for him. Speak openly and honestly let him know that you are there for him and for her in every way that you can be.  Could the sale of some stuff make it easier for any of the siblings to have her in their home by bringing in some assisted help daily?

Have you thought or looked into an assisted living situation near one of your homes? From all that you share this option might sound like the most realistic.  You must look into it immediately.  You are the furthest way, perhaps you could do the leg work and at least learn what is available in the areas around where she lives and her doctors are.

Often this subject is so loaded with resentment and blame family’s simply can’t seem to sit down and do the work that needs to be done to move it to a place of practical reasonable living. The defense between siblings is often a battle of whose life  will become more burdened. It should not be made into a competition of who has the worse life for taking care of mom.  An elderly mom living with a family is an adjustment beyond description for any household. I often remind people that it is perfectly acceptable to believe you “can’t” care for your parent.  But more truthful would be to say, “I am chooseing not to take care of my parent, because my life is such that I feel it will be too much of a burden”.  Once we admit the truth of how unwilling we are, to put our own lives through what it takes to move a parent in and care for them, we can begin to talk with a clear honest slate; and prepare a plan for the future.

I highly recommend you begin be laying it all down on the table in conversation.  Open the door for this and you will see some immediate growth and learn an enormous amount.   A plan is what you need, and you are the furthest away and have less ability to visit etc, so perhaps taking the role of coordinator and communication ring- leader could be your job.

When life becomes this difficult, with the people we love the most, there is always a way to make it work.  YOu and your family need to ban together here and draw your plan.  You can do it!

I hope for you all and your mother- ease and peace!


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