Caregiver Question | 05/04/23

I feel guilty and want to help my sister but don’t know how from across the country.

DEAR CARALLEL: My parents moved to Scottsdale, AZ sixteen years ago after Dad retired. They were done with the cold winters and wanted to be closer to my sister and her kids.

Dad died suddenly two years ago and since then my sister has been taking care of our mother. Mom has kidney disease and hasn’t been the same since Dad’s death. My sister and I don’t agree on everything, we are siblings after all, but she’s taking excellent care of Mom.

That being said, I fear the toll it’s taking on her. She does most of Mom’s cooking, all of her cleaning from what I can tell, gets her to and from dialysis and the doctor, manages her other medications, wrangles all the paperwork, and the list goes on.

I feel guilty not being able to help but I can’t move to Scottsdale. How can I help from here? –Carl in Grand Forks, ND 

DEAR CARL: I’m sorry to hear about your father. That must have been difficult for all of you.

As for your sister, I’m glad that she’s close and heartened to hear your appreciation for what she’d doing. We talk often with people who are caring for a loved one and are pained by the fact that their out-of-town family members or relatives don’t show any appreciation or willingness to pitch in. 

Your email is the opposite–so good on you for proactively thinking about how you can help your Mom and sister from a distance…And great news, there are definitely ways you can! 

Before I get to those though, it will be important for you to carefully consider how you bring this up with your sister. Judging by your thoughtful email, this won’t be a problem. 

I’d acknowledge that you recognize she’s been shouldering the load on her own, express your appreciation for all that she has done/continues to do, state your desire to help, offer some specific ideas on how you could do that, and ask for her feedback on what would be most helpful. 

Now that we have that out of the way, here are a few ideas for how you can assist. 

Be the designated researcher
There are likely services and programs available that could lighten your sister’s load. 

Off the top of my head, many health insurance companies have a wide range of benefits including things like kidney care programs, grocery or meal delivery, and even transportation services.

Additionally, local organizations or programs could be another source of assistance for your sister

The challenge sometimes is finding out what a person is eligible for and there’s unfortunately no shortcut for that. Doing the research can take time which is a commodity that is often scarce for people in your sister’s situation. 

So from a distance, you could call your Mom’s insurance company and scour their website for available benefits that could help. You could also call your Mom’s local Area Agency on Aging (find it here to learn about local programs you may be eligible for). 

Schedule your visits in advance
Travel comes with an expense and requires the ability to have time off from work, but it’d be wonderful if you could get to Arizona as often as you can each year. 

These visits will ensure that at a minimum, your sister has a few extended breaks throughout the year. She could use this time to just be “off duty” or for a getaway. 

Look at your calendar beforehand and suggest dates. The more specific you are, the more real your suggestion becomes and the easier it will be to actually take action and book your trips. 

Be the Chief Administrative Officer 
The administrative side of caring for a loved one is time consuming and never-ending. Yet it doesn’t matter where you’re located, you can help your sister with this. 

You could assume the duties of managing your Mom’s finances and paying her bills. Financial matters can be sensitive of course, but assuming a trusted relationship between you and your sister, this could be an easy way for you to pitch in. 

The same goes for talking with healthcare providers, health insurance companies, and pharmacies etc. You don’t need to be local to handle all of the scheduling and liaising with the medical professionals/organizations caring for your Mom.  

Keeping friends and family up-to-date is another administrative duty you could take on. 

By owning these tasks, you’ll be giving your sister time back and taking on some of the weight she’s been carrying. 

I hope this helps, Carl! 

All the best,

–Jennifer, Carallel Care Advocate

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