Dear Vicki,

My holidays will include an additional challenge this year. As the sibling living closest to our elderly mother, I need to use the time my brother, sister, and I are together to discuss future caregiving responsibilities and choices. My sister tries to manage my mother’s needs from afar via criticism and my brother, who lives in a nearby city, has mostly checked out of providing any assistance. Any advance suggestions?

The holiday talk

Advance care planning is a necessary and complex issue. In order to address it, one must have knowledge of a number of moving parts, such as the relationships between you and your siblings, your mother’s cognitive and physical capabilities, and available financial resources. Sibling friction arising from early and dysfunctional relationship dynamics often triggers old, hurtful patterns and tensions. Spouses of your siblings and other relatives may have their own opinions on how caregiving should be handled.

As the holidays are already a time of heightened expectations and stress, give your siblings — and your mother, as well, if she is cognitively able to participate — a heads up of the need for a discussion. If possible, converse ahead of time via a video conference. You might begin with a summary of your concerns and your mother’s needs, as you see them. Ask your siblings to brainstorm for their ideas and solutions prior to your holiday get-together. Keep your approach collaborative, fact-based, and solution-focused, rather than veering off into the territory of blame, defensiveness, or complaints. Suggest a brief, in-person meeting but certainly avoid having any such discussions around the holiday table!

If your advance Zoom meeting becomes an emotionally-charged stalemate, please consider enlisting the help of a geriatric care manager. These professionals can go a very long way in facilitating discussions, presenting alternatives and providing support and advice. A consultation would be well worth the investment!

Dear Vicki,

My sister-in-law is a saint. Due to COVID, distance, and my husband’s at-risk health, she has shouldered most of the burden for providing support to my aging parents. How can I best thank her during this upcoming season?

On the other hand: Appreciation for caregivers

Kudos to your sister-in-law and to you for wanting to acknowledge her generosity and contributions. I’d suggest writing her a heartfelt letter of appreciation. So often, we underestimate the power of simple words of thanks. Additionally, the best gift for caregivers is respite time and self-care opportunities. The job of caregiving is demanding and can be isolating. Often, but not always, it falls to the women of the family. Consider gifts such as certificates for massage, accommodations for a cozy inn (arrange for temporary caregiving coverage, as needed), housecleaning or handyman services, or delivery from a restaurant. Gift cards for a favorite store and/or a meal delivery service are additional suggestions. Anything that speaks of comfort and makes a caregiver’s life easier would be welcome.

For all readers who know a caregiver, please remember to thank them during this upcoming season. These folks are heroes among us and often they are underappreciated for all of the sacrifices they make. Experts estimate that there are over 65 million caregivers in the United States. That breaks down to approximately a caregiver present in every third household. Many of these generous souls work at another job in either a part-time or full-time capacity and are stressed and burdened with responsibilities. Please reach out and appreciate a caregiver at this time of year — and always!

Vicki Duncan is a licensed professional counselor and welcomes your questions. She can be reached at [email protected].

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