Caregiver Conundrum

24 Apr

Dear LetterBalm: My mom, who is in her late 80s, had a stroke three years ago. The family pressured me to quit a good job to become her caregiver for $150 a week. I sold my apartment and moved into her house, where my sister already lived. I do everything – cook, clean, shop, run errands, make repairs and do some caregiving for my mom. My sister has a well-paying job (she pays me the money), so she pretty much comes home late and hangs out with her boyfriend and friends. She gets annoyed if I ask her to take over for a few hours so I can go out with friends or have time to myself. She doesn’t think I should have a vacation either. My two brothers don’t live here and don’t help out, and they fight with my sister because they think she’s wants the house after Mom dies. It’s a mess here, and all this is making me ill. What to do?

–Slave Laborer

Attack your problems in logical order. First, research home health care costs. Depending on the state where you reside and your mother’s needs, home health care can cost from $1,700 to $3,800 a month. You’re a bargain at $800, and you do a lot more. (Ms. L.B. doubts a caregiver will wash the windows and fix the sink.) Then, talk with an attorney about to do if the house is in your sister’s name – she is paying for upkeep so she has a strong position. But you need to know your mother’s position if the family hires a professional caregiver or if she goes into assisted living, which may entail selling her home. Call a family meeting, and, armed with your information, present the financial facts. Rehearse ahead of time, keep cool and don’t let your sister hijack the discussion:

Folks, thanks for getting together. We’re here to talk about what’s best for Mom. I’ve got some important information, so please let’s listen before we all jump in. First of all, here are the financial facts: A professional home care giver costs between $1,800 and $4,000 a month and won’t be here 24/7 and do all that I do for the $800 a month I’m getting. If Mom goes into a home, we probably will have to sell the house. So, as I see it, we have two choices: I can go back to work, and everybody pitches in financially for a professional caregiver during the day. Or, I stay on for considerably more money – everyone contributes – and time off during the week and an annual vacation. Mom needs regular care, so when I am off, you’ll either have to pick up the slack yourselves or pay someone to do it. I know Megan has assumed most of the responsibility for the house and my allowance, so we need to accommodate this fairly. I suggest we hire an attorney to help work out a signed agreement among the four of us. For Mom’s sake, and our peace of mind, please let’s stop this squabbling.

Sad Legacy

23 Apr

Letterbalm Sad CoupleDear LetterBalm: While I was dating the man who has become my husband, I got pregnant. I was anxious and frightened. For many reasons – not just financial – we decided we couldn’t keep the baby, and I had an abortion. But I can’t leave this alone. We got married two years ago, and I’ve tried to get my husband to talk about how he feels about the abortion. I’m terrified I won’t be able to have kids. He doesn’t want to discuss it, and I can’t go to my family because they’ll freak out. (Everybody says my husband and I will make great parents, and we really want kids.) I’m feeling bereft and guilty and angry that my husband doesn’t seem to be bothered by the abortion. I’m in a downward spiral.


It’s sad that a decision you and your husband made years ago has cast a pall over the budding years of your marriage. This is the time of early happiness, when you and your man are supposed to be laying the foundation for your life together and talking endlessly about the future. It’s unfortunate that you and he can’t talk about things that matter to you. Ms. L.B. recommends an intervention here. You and your husband must seek couples therapy to resolve this serious issue. If you let this fester, your entire marriage will suffer because you’ll have no groundwork for communication. It’s not too late to build these good habits. You know best how to set the scene when your husband will be most receptive (his favorite dinner or food delivery?). Keep calm, don’t judge and say something along these lines:

Eric, I’m sorry I keep bringing up the abortion – I know you don’t want to talk about it. But I know you love me and don’t want me to be unhappy. Can you listen for a minute? The truth is, I’m profoundly depressed and need help. Even though we had good reasons for doing so, I’m angry at you and at myself for a decision we made years ago. I ache inside, and I suspect you are hurting, too. This is poisoning our marriage. I love you more than anyone I’ve ever known, and I want our marriage to work. I want us to have a family together. I’ve found the name of a good couples counselor. Can we book the first appointment? If we don’t resolve this, we can’t move forward. If you won’t go, I plan to go myself. I’d hate that, but I’ll do it if I must.

My Friend, the Drunk

22 Apr

Dear LetterBalm: A guy I worked with retired on disability a few years ago. He’s in his early 70s and does nothing but drink. He doesn’t have hobbies or interests, so alcohol is his preoccupation. His sister is a friend of mine, and she’s begging me not to give up on him – I’m one of his few friends who’s still talking to him. As the day goes on, he gets drunker and drunker and needier and needier. He calls me for help, to drive him to errands and doctor appointments, and he monopolizes my time. When I suggest (many times) that he get help, he gets defensive. He won’t listen. I have to pull away and stop this. What can I say?

–Had Enough

Alcohol could be making things worse if your friend is on medication for his disability. If you believe that could be a possibility, alert his doctors if you haven’t already. You must stop trying to convince him to turn his life around – he’s beyond your ability to help. Tell his sister you can only continue to be his friend if he gets sober, and you will not continue to drive him or otherwise help him until he does. Change your phone number, adopt a calm and reasonable demeanor every time and don’t be drawn into his demons. Say this to him:

Abner, you’re destroying your life, and I won’t be drawn into your drama anymore. Somewhere in there is a good and talented man, but you’ve lost sight of who you are in favor of the bottle. You don’t want to get rid of your demons. I’ve asked you so many times to get help, and you won’t. So, from now on, I will have nothing to do with you until you get sober. It makes me sad to say this, but it has to be. Our friendship is over unless you can turn yourself around.


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