My parents raised three children. I am the oldest while my brother is the middle child and my sister is the youngest. We have many common traits but from a very young age we responded quite differently to situation where emotions are running high or are uncomfortable. My response is to take control, while my brother disengages. My sister's response is to act as a peacemaker. During those times when we can't move to our default position our discomfort starts to go through the roof.
When my father died, my siblings and I were surprised to learn that my parents had not made any burial arrangements. No, we were shocked because my father was a "planner" and we, as his children, thought he was perfect. We were dealing with the shock of his death and then having to face-up to the fact that maybe, just maybe he didn't do everything perfectly. We were each struggling with the loss of our father and this was making working as a team difficult. At this point, my mother decides that we should ALL go as a family to make the final arrangements for my father. Whenever I remember that day I think of the robot from Lost in Space waving his retractable tube arms and yelling, "Danger Will Robinson"
None of us wanted to make funeral arrangements. My brother desperately wanted to disengage and be any place else besides the funeral home but he loved my mother and wanted to support her. To be fully transparent, I wanted to make the funeral arrangements but only if I could have complete and absolute control over all decisions. I was not in a good place to negotiate with anyone, not even my mother. As for my sister, she felt the tension in the room and knew she couldn't calm the situation so she wanted to be any place but there. I think she even spent some time hiding out in the bathroom. My mother's expectation for this outing went against every one of our personalities and was an exhausting process. Let's just say it took several years for us to talk about what happened that day and a couple more years before we could laugh about it.
What I learned from that painful day is that whatever your role is in your family growing up, it is intensified as your parent walks their end of life journey. Hundreds of people have shared with me the challenges they have had with their sibling as their parents' age. One complaint is that a brother or sister will disappear and not "help" with their parents. A second complaint is that a brother or sister takes control and unilaterally makes decisions and refuses to let anyone else help. A third complaint is that a sibling will promise to do something but fails to live up to his or her word. When I ask them if this is new behavior, the answer is always the same. "No, my sister or brother has always been that way! She has just gotten worse since my parents are ill."
The expectation that somehow in this most critical and stress filled period of your siblings life that they are going to change is unreasonable. Think about it. Are you going to change a lifetime of behavior when you are struggling to say goodbye to your mother or father? No, so why do you think your siblings will? The best you can do is to concentrate on your brother or sister's positive traits. When my mother was in the hospital, my sister took on the task of checking my mother's telephone voicemail and responding to well wishers who wanted updated information...daily. I didn't have it in me to spend all day at the hospital and then come home and talk to my mother's friends on the phone. My sister did and my brother and I are grateful for my sister's willingness to be the point person and for her kindness towards my mother's friends.
Take a moment to reflect on your siblings with a kind but realistic eye and then forgive them their weaknesses and lean on their strengths. You would want them to do the same for you. Remember they too are losing a parent.
Week 4: Regrets and Acceptance