Dear Annie: I have one surviving parent nearing 90 years old, who until five years ago was able to live completely independently. A serious injury greatly reduced Dad's mobility and caused chronic pain and hearing impairment. But he is mentally competent and able to live at home with some help.
I live a couple of hours away, but I talk to Dad daily, supply nutritionally correct homemade frozen meals and make regular trips to help with house and yard work, minor repairs, appointments, errands and so forth. I also have a job and provide limited care for an in-law, as well, and my husband has serious chronic health issues that also require significant care. I am spread thin, and I am tired.
The problem is my sister, who is single, retired, has no children and lives walking distance from Dad. She likes to play the martyr, insisting that Dad's condition is far worse than it really is and that he's had dementia for 20 years. She claims to be his 24-hour caregiver. None of this is true. In fact, Dad tells me that my sister rarely calls him, and when she does, she is verbally abusive.
Sis tells these lies to the extended family and friends, saying that I'm unwilling to help with Dad's care. I am not allowed to be a part of the family discussions about Dad's needs. I am not allowed to be at family gatherings, as my presence would be "too upsetting" to my poor, long-suffering sister. She also tells the relatives not to call Dad because he's too incapacitated to know what's going on. It breaks Dad's heart not to hear from anyone else.
Dad won't correct this misinformation, because he doesn't want to embarrass my sister or have her yell at him. I have tried to hold my head up, ignore gossip and calmly give facts when confronted, but I am tired of being the villain. Above all, I am worried about Dad. How do I dig us both out of this mess? -- Vilified Sibling
Dear Vilified: If your sister is verbally abusive, report it to your local Administration on Aging (aoa.gov). We also recommend you phone or email the relatives and ask them to call Dad because he is lonely and would appreciate hearing from them regardless of his condition. Then please contact the Family Caregiver Alliance (caregiver.org) and ask about respite care for yourself. You have your hands full.
Editor's note: Annie's Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column. Email questions to anniesmailbox@ comcast.net, or write to: Annie's Mailbox, P.O. Box 118190, Chicago, IL 60611.