Dear Carol: I live near my mother and have been her caregiver for years. My problem is that I have a retired, single sister who has been living in New York. Once the virus outbreak started, she decided to move back to Alabama to live with Mom and take care of her. Sounds good, right? Since I have a full household and am a nurse myself, it really is good from the virus standpoint.
What is hurting me is jealousy. My family is close, and my sister and I get along very well. I don’t want to tell her how I feel. I understand that she is right and this is my problem, but I can only see Mom out in the yard so I feel left out and not useful. How do I deal with these petty feelings? — PT.
Dear PT: Your note touched me deeply. While your feelings are normal, you have the insight to know that they are off track. It takes a big person to recognize their shortcomings and deal with them without blaming others, so you have my admiration.
Remember that feelings aren’t good or bad. They simply exist. It could help you to focus on internalizing the fact that your mom is your sister’s parent as well as yours. This seems self-evident, but it’s easy to forget on a conscious level when you’ve put so much of your life into a parent’s care.
Work on being genuinely thankful that your sister and your mom now have precious time together even if it takes you time to get there. Perhaps it could help if you told your sister how you feel, prefacing this by letting her know how much you appreciate what she has done to help the family and keep your mom safe. Let her know upfront that you are upset by these feelings and no part of this is her fault.
Discuss with her the idea that additional outside visits with just you and your mom would help. Even if you can’t hug your mom and be physically close, just having some one-on-one time could help you reconnect with her in the way that you understandably need.
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 situation continues to be in flux. Some caregivers are now able to physically reconnect with their older loved ones. However, your work does put you at an elevated risk, so it may take some time before you can comfortably be in close contact with your mom without increasing her chance of infection. It will be up to you to gauge that risk as best you can.
Family caregiving is intricate and often messy. If you have a pastor, priest or another spiritual adviser with whom you are comfortable, you could talk with them. Or, you could see a paid counselor.
The main thing is to not be hard on yourself as you grow to recognize that, eventually, you will likely share the caregiving with your sister. You sound like a person with the insight to accomplish this with grace.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached through the contact form on her website.