Monday 20 November 2017

Ask Mary O'Rourke....

Illness can lead to tensions in families.
Illness can lead to tensions in families.

Mary O'Rourke

My mum has cancer, and my siblings are not helping

Dear Mary,

'My mum has cancer and I just don't think I can take it any more. I know that sounds ridiculous, because my mother is the one who is going through the wars.

The thing is, I'm her main carer and I feel as if I'm getting no help at all from my brothers and sister.

My brothers live nearby, but they are pretty useless when it comes to helping out. One of them never visits. He just rings to see if I need anything in the shops.

I know he finds it too hard to see mum so ill, but I can't do this on my own.

The other brother is better, but it's my sister who is really doing my head in. She lives in England, but is on the phone all the time telling me that we are not doing enough to help mum.

That drives me to distraction, considering that she is not here and has no idea what is going on.

I've lost it with her a few times and felt terrible afterwards. At the same time, I'm really dreading her upcoming visit. If she criticises me once, I know it will send me over the edge.

I'm furious now just thinking about it because I know there is no point at all in talking to her. What can I do?

Marion, Co Limerick

Mary's view:

'You need to spell out to your brothers and sister the emotional havoc this is wreaking on you. You hold the reins, so act now'

In responding to your query, I am conscious that your mother – with her cancer –is the one who is going through the wars.

You have two brothers and one sister and you feel you are not getting sufficient help from any of them.

One of your brothers rings sometimes, the other brother is better, but it is your sister in England who is really disturbing you. She is calling you constantly telling you that you are not doing enough for your mother, etc.

I am completely at one with you in your sense of distraction and utter rage. I can fully understand how you have lost your temper with her a few times and you shouldn't at all feel terrible about it.

I have seen this situation in families over the years.

Because you are there all the time, sometimes your ill mother might take your efforts for granted.

When a sibling makes a journey to see a sick parent, they can think they have made a bigger effort and that can be very frustrating.

This is just a fact of life, but how to deal with it? A practical idea I would have is that when your sister comes home, you call a family meeting of your two brothers, your sister and yourself, preferably away from your home.

At that meeting, I feel you should be totally explicit about the amount of care and time you are giving your sick mother.

You need to spell out very clearly to your brothers and sister the emotional havoc their lack of support is wreaking on you.

I have read and re-read your query and it seems to me that none of them has an idea of the amount of work, time and care you are giving your mother, so those facts need to be spelled out loudly and clearly.

Now, you must demand that they help you.

Each of your brothers could do with a strong talking-to, laying out what you would like them to do to help – call more often, relieve you from some of the care, contribute cash, time, effort, companionship, fellow feeling – whatever it is that you need most.

Combined with your built-up feelings about your sister, this is bound to leave you feeling very much below par yet, sometimes, there is nothing to beat plain talking and that is what you must do at this family meeting.

Speak individually to your brothers first and explain what's on your mind. Then, present the meeting as a fait accompli to your sister when she arrives.

You are in the driving seat, so lay it out very clearly to them and I feel sure that all of you will benefit from having the fog cleared.

I know I may appear very brisk with this query, but really that is the only way for you to deal with it. Otherwise, you are going to be overcome with grudges that you will continue to bear against the other members of your family.

I would again say to you: act now, whilst you have the reins in your hand.

I hope your mother responds well to treatment and makes a full recovery.

Best of luck.


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