Sibling Sensibilities


I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” Not really... Not yet.

A series of complicated coincidences (acts of God?) resulted in me living right next door to Mom. In the beginning, we were just plain neighbors. We shared a driveway and a garden... sharing was caring.

Seven years later, sharing is care-taking. Like a slow dripping faucet, my sink is getting full. Almost imperceptibly, I have become the defacto caretaker of my aging mother. Neither of my two (remaining) siblings, nor Mom herself, has asked me to assume this role, but here I am, playing the part like a pro.  

Logistically, I’m the reasonable choice. My brother lives 2000 miles away in Florida and my sister is about 4 towns north of me. I live the closest to Mom, therefore, I should take care of her. Proximity is the primary caretaking factor. Period. End of story. Right?

Maybe not. It’s hard to say if my family’s current kumbaya, with me as the caretaker, can last down the road. I fear the ground work is being laid for what could be a messy future with regard to caring for Mom as a family (the other “f” word...). We lack the 3 Cs. - communication, coordination, and concern for one another. We haven’t really been a “team,” but we haven’t needed to be - yet.

Proximity is definitely a valid predictor of which family member deserves the responsibility for helping Mom. But should it be the only one? “Proximity” doesn’t take into account all the baggage each and every family member has strapped to their backs...even if they think they are bag-less. It doesn’t take into account, the position each child had in the family growing up, or the feelings they had for one another along the way...or the injustices they experienced in their own lives that affect how they think today. Proximity doesn’t take into account resentments that are nurtured for years and years, or faulty assumptions that family members maintain about each other. Proximity doesn’t consider a family member’s health, wealth, or own familial status. It doesn’t take into account each siblings’ busy-ness or their other legal, financial, and/or emotional commitments.

I read an excessive number of articles, essays, pieces, and posts, on all things family... particularly those related to caretaking. Sibling discourse and discord are reader-interest chart toppers. Anyone in a family with more than one kid and one or two aging parents, seeks to relate... to identify with others... to share their commiserate with caretaking comrades. I get it. Caretaking can be lonely business. I share an undercurrent of fear with my co-carers that can subconsciously dominate a day. What-ifs and OMGs can take up an inordinate amount of real estate in my head.  Big decisions about Mom and her care are quietly lurking around every corner.

Maybe I’m wasting precious worry-time, and these decisions will never actually have to be made; Mom will finish out her days right where she is, in her “little apartment” next door, and we can all continue living life as we know it.      

But what if Mom falls... and/or needs to move to assisted living...or succumbs to one of the many sweepstakes scams she’s tied up in and loses all her money? Although I could make decisions related to these traumas independently, I’m pretty sure my siblings will surface and have opinions they’d like to share. As much as I’ll understand their enhanced interest, my personal baggage will have gotten heavier, and although I don’t mind carrying it alone, I don’t want the sherpa showing up after I’ve reached the summit.    

It’s often said that families come together in times of crisis. This would be the best outcome possible. My brother and sister and I would meet (as in, physically get together), share our thoughts, ideas and opinions on whatever Mom-issue was at hand, and then divide the “tasks” necessary to get the job done as a team. We’d text or email each other to communicate the details...and we would think about each other in the process... being mindful of whose burden might be heaviest on any given day, or who was the last to do such and such a task, or who is feeling physically unable to help on a particular day. In short, we would communicate, coordinate and show concern for one another in an effort to help Mom – and ourselves.

As cheesy as it may sound, caring for Mom together could breathe new life into our sibling-hood. It could be an opportunity to forge new bonds and create memories to be shared when we’re old(er) and gray(er). We are the end of our family line, with no orchestrating aunts, uncles or grandparents to hold us together as a “family.” We are, quite literally, all we’ve got.






Emily GaffneyComment