Furtive Family

18 Apr

Letterbalm Family SecretsDear LetterBalm: I just found out that my older, alcoholic sister has chronic pancreatitis. She requires extensive care in her apartment, and, if she recovers, there will be a long recuperation. My mother has taken on her nursing and absolutely insists that she wants to do it herself and not to tell my father and the rest of the family how much she’s involved. Once again, I’m stunned at the lack of communication and secretiveness in my family. We never share information on anything, even if it’s the best thing to do when we need support. I’ve tried to break this pattern, encouraging my siblings and parents to talk. But I’m usually met with “mind-your-own-business” anger. I want to help my mom – I know she’ll need it. What can I do and say?

–Keeping Mum for Mom

The wall-of-silence dynamic has seriously warped honest, timely communication in your family, as you’ve realized. It’s admirable that you’ve tried to change behaviors, but it’s a long slog. Ms. L.B. says your family has not learned to trust one another, so everybody goes it alone and stiff-upper-lip.  This latest situation puts you in a tough spot: Do you risk interfering in your mom’s life, going against her stated wishes and notifying your family? Or do you back off and allow her secretive behavior to continue when she really might need you? Perhaps there’s a third way. Consider telling your mom you will help her for your own sake, because it’s the right thing to do. It’s up to you to decide. When you do, have a private in-person conversation with your mother:

Mom, I want to have a talk with you about Helena, and I ask you to please listen to an idea I have. It’s admirable that you want to take on most of Helena’s care. Don’t worry, I’m not going to try to convince you to tell Dad and the rest of the family how much you’re doing for her. I respect that you want to go it alone. But I hope you understand that I need to be there for my sister – for nothing else, but that it’s the right thing to do. I want to help, and I’m doing this not for you, but for me. You and I can work out a care schedule. We can divide the labor and decide who does what – and we’ll do all this privately. Please say that you’ll agree to this for my sake.


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