I understand all too well

My dad is on kidney dialysis and I was going to be a kidney donor for him until we learned it could very easily create some additional health issues for both me and for him, at which point we both said no, this isn’t the answer. But he’s tied to that machine now 3x a week, for 4hrs each time. To say his kidney failure has rocked their world is a major understatement. Mom has recently been diagnosed with PTSD which (and I’m trying to be gentle here) has simply become the latest crutch. They are both on multiple medications, some of which might be justified but some of which I suspect are not. And Dad had some business losses in recent years which ate up their savings; a lot of their supposedly very safe investments dropped dramatically with the downturn because most of them were real estate. Their “upper middle class” lifestyle with multiple homes and multiple vehicles and multiple investment accounts has eroded down by a lot, over a very short span of time. I have heard my mother use the word “broke” more times in the last year than in the entire history of my growing up in that house. So the health and financial issues are definitely there. And yes, they’re in that same 70-75 age bracket.

As for others to help, it’s an odd thing but even with siblings, there’s no guarantee they’re going to help. I was it for a long, long time. My two stepbrothers (I call him my Dad but he’s my stepdad), live in a different state, and were never around when the folks needed help. My natural brother also lives in a different state, and is very family oriented but he has three young kids at home. So his “family oriented” was with his own immediate family. I was always the helper, and particularly since we didn’t have kids we were always the ones to travel there for whatever reason. When my mom fell and broke her ankle, I was the one who got the call from the emergency room to drop everything and fly home because she needed me. When my dad went into his first kidney-disease crash-n-burn, I was the one who got the call from emergency room that I had to drop everything and fly home to help Mom take care of him. Those events both happened after we had stopped flying home ourselves, because the farm had become big enough to need our attention by then. So travel at that point was already very expensive and complicated for us; it has only gotten more so since then. Yet the calls have continued to come in at a steady pace. “Mom is suicidal. Come home.” “Dad is at death’s door. Come home.” “Mom has gone missing, we’re not sure where she is. Come home.” “Dad really needs you right now because the doctors aren’t sure if dialysis is going to work. Come home.” Even I could eventually see that pattern emerging. They always miraculously lived through whatever crisis was at hand, but by golly a few months later, another crisis came along. I could set my clock by it.

One of the things we’ve discovered with family, particularly with family facing both health and financial issues, is that there is a LOT of public assistance out there, and no I don’t mean Welfare. There are non-profit groups who help with utility bills, who help with construction, renovation and repair tasks. Who pick up seniors to get them to their doctors’ appointments if/when they can’t drive. There are church groups who will assign a family in need to a group of people, who then take turns baking and cleaning and running errands, so that no one person is tasked with doing too much. So on and so forth. Help is available for folks in any urban area; even in rural areas there are groups who can provide at least some assistance. But what we’ve also found, and I’m still fighting this with my folks, is that they’re too proud to accept that help. But they’re ready, willing and able to pick up the phone, tell me to drop whatever I’m doing to run my very complex and demanding business, and fly home to fix drama-du-jour. Mom once texted me that she was having issues with her DSL connection, and I should fly home to fix it. Because apparently I’m the only one on the planet who can. Finally, I said No, I’ve had enough.

I can understand the value in venting about a situation that you do have under control, but don’t like. I can also understand venting about a situation that you don’t have under control, and you’re not sure what to do about it. I wasn’t sure from your original post which way it was for your particular situation. It does sound like you have the circus under control, for the moment, but you’re trying to figure out if it’s always going to be this way. I would encourage you to Google the term “caretaker syndrome”, and see if you see yourself reflected in what you read. I suspect you will (I sure as heck did). I would then encourage you to seek out alternative ways to provide for your Mom’s needs, both financial and household, and make good use of them. Some of your tax dollars are going to pay for those services; make the most of them. Even non-tax-supported assistance is better than trying to carry all the responsibility of two lives. I’ll bet you already have a pretty good list of things to do just for your own life.

I can guarantee that this latest round of drama will come and go. It always does. But what happens with these situations is that it never stops. There’s always some drama, because that’s how that relationship has evolved over time – the drama feeds the relationship so the relationship creates the drama. If and when you’re ready to get off that bus, there are ways to do so. Until then, I do hope you’re able to get some time for yourself so that you can attend to your own needs, whatever they are. Hang in there, explore your options (and hers), and see if a few of them fit well enough that you can start to turn over the maintenance tasks to someone else. Then you and she can have a relationship based on respect and love, rather than need and guilt. That’s what I’m aiming for with my folks. Still working on it, but it’s better than it was.