Self Caring

Seeing Is Believing"¦but What Happens When You're the Only One Looking?

Last updated: Aug 25, 2010

July 24 - See No / Hear No / Speak No Evil

Seems like every family in an eldercare situation splits, at various points, into the ones who see (the memory loss, the shuffle, the house falling apart around Mom, the need to plan ahead) and the ones who refuse to see.

I call "˜em the do-ers and the deniers.

How do you become one or the other when a caregiving crisis lurks, or explodes?

This week, I was interviewed for the Wall Street Journal 's midlife work-family blog, "The Juggle," about [when elder care duties lead to sibling rivalry] ( And this subject of denial (though it wasn't a topic in the post) came up over and over in the reader Comments section.

All kinds of denial:

  • "Mom's got a health issue she's literally sweeping under the rug."

  • "My mom's younger sister refused to accept how bad my grandmother's condition was and offered no help with anything."

  • "I have been stunned at how oblivious my brother is to my Mother's decline"¦he can't even see that she needs help paying bills and such, even though she's hard pressed to even remember what day of the week it is."

  • "My parents don't really care to discuss things."

  • "This subject stresses me out. My father hasn't got a plan, is stubborn and refuses help."

My family, too, has had its do-ers and deniers. Not all of us caught on at the same time to my parents' various declines "“ and frankly, the two of them were the worst of the bunch! Mom ignored her own symptoms and covered for Dad's. Dad was oblivious. And the day I dared to bring up the words "living will" will live in infamy. (They finally did them when Mom was in the hospital, just given a diagnosis of terminal cancer.) But even among the siblings and other relatives, while we were all in sync by critical junctures, there was a fair amount of frustration at the lollygaggers at various points along the way.

What do you suppose makes you a do-er? (I say do-er, because that's obviously what you are if you're reading this.) Are we more responsible types in general? More observant? More realistic about life?

And what's up with those in denial? Wishful thinking that blinds them to reality? Longing for the past? A dislike of getting their hands dirty, or spending the money, or the time? Some quirk of birth order? Personality?

I'm not talking about who's near or far physically. I'm talking about who's psychologically on board with what must be done and tries to help, as opposed to who's out in Neverland.

Their oblivion is our added stress. The remedy, psychologists say, is patience, and reassurance, and calmly presenting facts and asking for reconsideration. But that's hard work for the worried caregiver who has enough to do already! One consolation: The knowledge that doing anything is better than standing by and doing nothing, even if you feel like you're hauling a two-ton truck up a cliff with dental floss all by yourself.