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Dear Family Advisor

My sister-in-law has an axe for a tongue.

By , Caring.com contributing editor
Last updated: June 08, 2010

I've gained 50 pounds while taking care of my husband, who has Parkinson's. It's the stress, I guess. The problem is his sister who actually said to me, "It's a good thing he's so sick, because you've let yourself go so much I doubt Bob would stay with you otherwise!" She has a history of saying cutting things, like how I'd look younger if I dyed my hair (as if I have time!) or how Bob almost married the homecoming queen in high school (who happened to be her best friend) if only he hadn't gone away to that second-rate college (which is where we met).

What's the right response to someone who doesn't think before she speaks? I am trying the best I can and especially now wish I could have more family support.

Caregiving can really put your nerves on edge, but it can also give you the guts to deal with things you've been tolerating for far too long.

There's a time to let your silence and example speak for who you are"”and there's a time, now, to stand up for yourself and say, "No more." No one, no one, no one should talk to you in such a way. You're a loving and faithful wife and caregiver"”and I bet you're so much more. Your sister-in-law has some insecurities, and unfortunately she's been taking them out on you for a long time.

I hope that you can begin to view her differently"”not as a menacing threat, but as someone who still needs to learn how to treat people with the dignity and kindness they deserve.

Bullies usually back down when confronted. Have a serious and firm conversation. Start by sharing that throughout the years you've tolerated her put-downs, and that's now going to stop. It's hurtful and inappropriate and she's no longer welcome in your home if it continues. Share that Bob and you love each other and that she needs to concentrate her efforts on loving her brother -- and part of this is by respecting you, his wife. Don't get into a debate; some people want you to "prove" what they said so they can deny or defend it. Simply state that only encouraging words will be spoken in your presence. If she says anything ugly, open the door and tell her she needs to leave (or if you're someplace else, then you leave). I've had to do this myself, so I know how scary it is, but it also feels great to finally stand up for yourself.

I have to share that I, too, gained almost 50 pounds while caregiving. Stress, late nights, all nights, up-and-down nights, weeks of hospital stays, in and out home care and rehab, teenagers to mother as well as the grief and sadness I felt as I watched Alzheimer's take my mother's memories -- weight gain (or for others, weight loss) is a normal reaction. Thank your body for carrying you through this very difficult and heart-wrenching journey. The more we love ourselves just as we are, the closer we come into peace and balance inside and out. Trust that when it's time, your body will respond to the care you'll then be able to give it. Health is the priority here, not a number on the scale.

I often start my caregiving talks by joking, "You know you're a caregiver when"¦you and your mom have matching snap-front dresses!" I equate caregiving to being on the front line of a war zone. The rules aren't the same as in everyday life. You're literally fighting for your loved one's life. You have to do whatever you can just to survive. You'll get your groove back; don't worry!

Take a few minutes and make a list of all the thoughtful things you do every day. Write down every little item, such as covering your husband's legs with an extra blanket, changing the channel to something that cheers him up, stroking his hair when he's in pain. Then refer back to that amazing list when you're feeling low. Your life is filled with a million details right now, and you're pouring all of your love, energy, and attention to caring for your husband. That's something you'll always have"”to know that you gave your all. That's true beauty, the kind no one can ever take from you. I bet you're the kind of person you'd love to be friends with.

Surround yourself with people who are positive and affirming. There's nothing like a close friend to lift your spirits or give you a break by running an errand for you. I hope you'll reach out"”through a church-based community, a community center, or a support group for Parkinson's or caregiving in general"”to people who can really understand what you face every day.

In time, you may come to consider your sister-in-law's ugly comments as an ironic gift: She taught you to dig deep and recognize your own goodness and worth. Our teachers often come in disguise.

I'd like to share perhaps the most touching quote I've ever read: * "God, help me to believe the truth about myself, no matter how beautiful it is!" * "“Macrina Wiederkehr