Dear Carol: Since we lost both of our parents early in the year my family is beyond caregiving, but I’d still like your thoughts. Both of my siblings live several hundred miles away from me. Before parent care, we hadn’t been exceptionally connected, but during our parents’ illnesses, we became much closer. Now, that’s all fallen apart.
My siblings are professionals who set aside much of their work to help with the last months of our parents’ lives and I’m very grateful for that, but lately, it’s like our closeness has disappeared. I miss their regular updates and phone calls now that the “need” to communicate regularly is over. Maybe it’s because I’m alone so much due to my COVID enforced work-from-home job, but I feel a terrible loss. Should I tell them how I feel or just let it be and learn to live with the fact that they have moved on? — HS.
Dear HS: I’m sorry about your losing your parents so close together. That's hard in itself, so this shift in your communications with your siblings feels like an additional loss, which is entirely understandable.
There are several things that can be a factor in this common change in family dynamics. One is that after intense caregiving, many people feel a need to distance themselves from the emotional drain that long-term, intense caregiving can cause, and your regular updates are part of that.
Additionally, you mentioned that your siblings sacrificed some of their work so they may have lost clients or promotions. Understandably, they now feel a need to catch up with their careers. Their spouses and children probably also felt their preoccupation during that intense time, so likely they are catching up at home, too.
Even their personal time spent on religious activities or with friends, working out or hobbies, was disrupted during their involvement in parent care.
My point is that your siblings haven’t moved on from you, but they’ve moved on from caregiving. Try telling them that you miss the feeling of closeness that you had with them, but don’t burden them with complaints or blame. Just let them know that you love them and want to stay connected in whatever way they can manage, even if it's only through an occasional email.
Since for now you are working from home, you may be one of the many people who need to expand their interests to make up for the loss of office interaction. COVID-19 makes that hard to do in person, but maybe you could widen your network online. Finding groups with similar interests is a good place to start.
You're probably missing your parents, or at least feeling the intense loss of purpose that often comes with caregiving, as well. For that reason, you might want to investigate a virtual grief support group where you'll find others in a similar situation. Focusing on making your own life more complete should, over time, help you rely less on your siblings for emotional support.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached through the contact form on her website.