Is it wrong to want to make my sister help?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother passed away from cancer a couple of years ago. While she was dying, I was going through chemo for cancer. I got absolutely no support from my sister or father, as they were only concerned with my mom. I did everything myself, such as driving myself home after a six-hour chemo session. It also was emotionally devastating to not be healthy enough to be by my mother's side in the final months.

My mother's death devastated my father. He is so alone now. My mother was his whole life. Since then, my sister, who lives in a different part of the country, visits for a week or two about twice a year. I work full-time and try to visit my dad a couple times a week after work. I've done shopping and errands for him, and I always make time to visit him on weekends.

I recently got engaged to a man who lives a couple hours away from my father (I live in between). My sister makes me feel like her little visits are more than I ever do for my father in a whole year. I have tried to get her to move here to help out, but she refuses. She says I shouldn't ask her to give up her current life (which consists of no friends and no significant other).

I am engaged and I want to be able to spend time with my fiance. I feel bad just taking a long weekend with him. I worry about my dad. My jealous sister gets angry at me for spending time with my fiance instead of my dad. She's very good at making me feel guilty.

To top it all off, she has borderline personality disorder and can goes off in an over-the-top screaming rage at any time over the smallest thing. It's frightening. It all makes me think of packing up and moving far away with my fiance to force my sister to help out with my dad. (But I would never do that.)

I adore my dad, but I am incredibly burnt out and need help/backup in caring for my dad. I am a cancer survivor who still takes cancer meds on a daily basis. And my blood pressure is too high. I just want to enjoy life for a while. I don't know what to do.

Expert Answer

Mikol Davis, PhD has worked in community hospitals with geriatric patients suffering from dementia, depression, and other psychiatric problems. He has a doctorate in Psychology from the University of San Francisco and has been in private practice in Marin County, California. Davis co-founded AgingParents.com with his wife, Carolyn Rosenblatt.

You are an amazing survivor in spite of your sibling being unwilling to help with the caregiving of dad. If is unfortunate that your sisters mental illness has become so toxic to you. It is unlikely that she will ever truly appreciate all that your did for mom and all that you continue to do for dad. The only way your marriage to be will work is if your make your on life priority number ONE. Your guilt is getting in the way of your own healing from chemotherapy. Be realistic about what you can do to help dad. Get volunteers to supplement what you are not able to provide dad. Get supportive counseling to help you with setting limits with your sister and focus on your own priorities. Counseling maybe available at no or low cost through community mental health services. Feel free to read more about how to maintain mental wellness at our website AgingParents.com.