Balancing Brother's Needs and Limitations
Dear Annie: My older brother is disabled. He was quite functional after he first had a stroke, but did not take care of himself. He wouldn't take his medications, ate unhealthy food, drank too much and watched TV all day.
As a result, he is now very disabled. Has difficulty walking, talking, falls a lot and cannot control his bodily functions. On top of that, he is stubborn and lies constantly. His kids and grandchild moved out because they were tired of dealing with him.
He is my brother and I am doing what I can to keep him out of a nursing home -- paying for a caregiver, making sure his house is repaired and providing financial support. The problem is that it has become impossible for me to take him with me when I attend out-of-town family gatherings. He refuses to use a walker or wheelchair, which means it takes an extraordinary amount of time to get him places -- to the point that we have missed events.
I have a great deal of trouble getting him in and out of the car. I am unable to pick him up when he falls. I just cannot bathe him or change his soiled clothes, that is way too much for a sister. My family all live in a rural area of the state and there are few resources for assistance. I cannot afford to pay for a caregiver to accompany us; I can barely afford his home care.
How do I tell him that I can no longer take him on away trips to visit family? I attended our nephew's graduation without telling him, and he found out. I am starting to feel really depressed about this. The rest of the family have tried to help, but gave up on him for their own sanity. I would be so grateful for any advice you have. -- Drowning
Dear Drowning: More than 40% of caregivers have symptoms of depression, according to a report from the Family Caregiver Alliance. That's not surprising. The emotional and physical labor of caregiving can be incredibly draining and lead caregivers to neglect their own needs. I encourage you to make a therapy appointment today. You deserve support as much as your brother does.
Toward that end, be upfront with your brother. Tell him that you'll no longer be taking him on long trips, but that you'll continue offering him support in other ways that you can. Stating your limitations is not giving up on him; it's making it possible for you not to give up on him. You can't care for anyone, including your brother, if you don't first take care of yourself.
If you need more confidence that you're doing the right thing, try a thought experiment: If the tables were turned, what would you ask of him? What would you expect? Then you'll see that you've been more than patient with him, and he is asking more of you than is fair. Sweet sister, know that your big brother is lucky to have you, whether or not he's capable of recognizing that at the moment.
Dear Annie: I have a little more advice for "Solo Soul-Searching," who wrote in asking for tips for her cross-country trip.
Last June, we drove an RV from Texas to Utah. Going through New Mexico and Arizona was kind of terrifying. You must be VERY prepared, especially in the summer, with lots of water and GAS! Gas stations are few and far between. It's very desolate out there. It was scorching hot, even in the mountains of Utah. -- Robin R.
Dear Robin R: I've had few experiences more nerve-wracking than driving through a long stretch of desert as the gas gauge dipped terrifyingly close to "E." Ample water and fuel should always be top of mind for the cross-country traveler. Thanks for writing, and happy trails in the future.
"Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie" is out now! Annie Lane's debut book -- featuring favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette -- is available as a paperback and e-book. Visit http://www.creatorspublishing.com for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane to firstname.lastname@example.org.