My sister and I have not always had the best of relationships.
All though childhood, we fought like cats and dogs. We were not close AT ALL! One of my best childhood friends will laugh recalling memories of when we were 10-years-old and my little sister (then 6-years-old) and I would get into huge physical altercations. Like, ripping each other’s hair out and rolling around wrestling. And not in a cute or nice way either. It wasn’t pretty.
We were four years apart and, at the time, the gap felt as wide as the Grand Canyon. I felt like she was so young and immature and I wouldn’t be inconvenienced to let her hang around me and my friends. Due to our age gap and timing of birthdays, we never went to the same middle or high school at the same time. We had wholly different interests, friend groups, and even physical locations due to the different schools we attended.
Then a funny thing happened. After I graduated high school and moved out of my parents’ house, my sister and I started talking more. Then when she graduated high school and moved out, the frequency of our interactions picked up even moreso. We became friends. And then…best friends.
It’s now been a full 15 years since I graduated high school. Even though we weren’t close growing up, we made up for lost time in the 15 years since moving out of our patents’ house. And there’s been a lot of LIFE during that time. We were each other’s’ maid/matron of honors for our weddings. We’ve seen each other through good times and bad, through pregnancies and childbirth, through moving cross-country (twice). Through fun sister-trips to Vegas and tough funeral-visit trips. We’ve been there for each other truly during both the best and worst of times in each other’s lives. We haven’t lived in the same city for over a decade at this point and, even with all the miles between us, she’s still been my best friend.
But something has happened to our friendship that’s been tearing us apart.
In August 2015, my Dad was diagnosed with dementia. Since he had no spouse or partner, we became his primary caretakers. First, the bulk of responsibility fell to me. He was living in Utah at the time and due to my proximity (in Arizona), I was making frequent flights back-and-forth for doctors’ visits, to help pack up his house, and eventually to meet with realtors and get the place sold.
At that time, my Dad moved to Texas and since then, my sister has had the bulk of “caregiver” duties thrust onto her. I’ve tried to help as best I can, being a thousand miles away. I’ve taken over handling my Dad’s finances while my sister has taken the day-to-day/medical/hands-on stuff. Undoubtedly, she has the bigger burden. Without question. I knew the load on her would be hard. It’s not easy to be a caretaker to one’s parent. And though I haven’t shared specifics, none of us were ever close to our Dad. He was not a large part of our lives growing up. So, the burden feels double, or even triple, being that we’re caring for a person who never even really cared for us (at least in a physical sense). A person who was never really a significant part of our lives in our youth nor adulthood.
It’s been hard. Really hard. I started going to therapy, initially, for issues related to my dad’s dementia.
But then things got better for me. As we’ve moved my Dad to higher and higher levels of care, things have gotten easier and easier. Now that he’s in a locked memory care facility, we have no more emergency phone calls from police or social workers (which, at one point, were literally a weekly-occurrence). He’s well cared for, fed, and groomed. All his basic needs are met and none of it requires work or effort from me or my sister (or brother for that matter). My sister still has the bulk of responsibilities – she still goes to visit nearly 3 times a week, takes “groceries” (all food is provided, but he likes snacks in his room), takes him to doctors, delivers his prescription medication, etc. etc. etc. It’s still a lot.
Having a family member with dementia is a lot. For everybody. And for my sister most of all.
Slowly, over time, I sensed a strain in my relationship with my sister. Nothing specific that happened. But things were tenuous. I think things reached a boiling point over summer when we moved my Dad from his independent-living facility into the memory-care facility. My sister had to handle most of the preparations (touring new facilities, scheduling movers, getting things boxed and ready, etc. etc. etc.). I went out and helped with the actual move, but I had to come back to Arizona shortly thereafter. She was left to handle the aftermath. Though things went well with the move (even better than we’d expected), things did not go well between my sister and me.
And so, as things seemed to deteriorate between us, I went back to therapy again. This time with greater frequency, too. Not only was I dealing with issues caused by my Dad’s illness. Now, it felt like I was also losing my best friend. It was heartbreaking, to say the least.
If you notice the timeframe of the sister-breakdown, it occurred right at the same time that our finances got out of control. Coincidence? Well, yes and no. Some of our financial issues just happened to occur at the same time – like the ending of my part-time job and hubs’ closing his business.
But it’s so easy for our finances and spending to get wrapped up with psychological issues, isn’t it? Much of my spending during and since this summer has been for things I might consider therapeutic, even though they seem like superfluous “fat” in the budget. Things like happy hour with friends or yoga classes to center my mind. Oh yeah, and I’m still going to weekly talk-therapy, too.
I think things with my sister are slowly getting better. I’ve been working hard in therapy, developing coping techniques and skills, and surrounding myself with things to bring me joy and happiness. We’ve been talking a little more. I’m hopeful for our future.
But I’m not going to lie. The past few months have been some of the personally hardest in my life. And not because of any specific “event” (no cross-country move, wedding, or childbirth). But just because of the psychological stressors of the entire caregiving situation with my dad and the fallout it has caused between me and my siblings. I hadn’t realized what a source of social support my sister had been for me until I felt like I had lost her.
I’m not perfect. Our family finances are still in need of triage. We have so much work left to do.
Right now I’m considering myself a “work in progress.” Both in terms of my financial habits and just my general psychological well-being. But I just wanted to provide some additional context and background for why it may be difficult for us to turn things around as quickly as we had back in March 2015 when I first started blogging. I’ve been lucky to never struggle with mental health prior to these most recent years. And now that I know the struggle from the other side, I know how truly all-consuming and debilitating it can be.
If you have time and are interested, I’ve linked to two videos about dementia that have been personally moving to me:
- Beth Malone: How My Dad’s Dementia Changed My Idea of Death (And Life). I feel like Beth tells my story here. There’s so much similarity that watching it brought me to tears.
- Alanna Shaikah: How I’m Preparing to Get Alzheimer’s. Though Alanna’s story is a little different than mine, I think her message is so moving and important. It’s changed my own view of my life and end-of-life planning.
I know this post is a little different than the traditional get-out-of-debt blog post, but I felt compelled to share a little piece of myself with you today. I hope you can take it and remember that everyone has their own inner demons and battles that we know nothing about. Especially in this holiday season, let’s do what we can to uplift and encourage others and to promote kindness and empathy for others.
I’ll be back soon with a more traditional get-out-of-debt blog post, too! <3
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