Ask Denise: What Do I Do When I Will and My Sibling Won’t?

Dear Denise,

First, I have to tell you what a wonderful community you have on Thank you for your work at creating and maintaining such a supportive environment.

I don’t know what “answer” I’m looking for but know you will have an answer that will be perfect for me. My situation is that I care for a relative and we are a very small family. I handle the caregiving duties and, although my sibling generously helps financially, he is very hands off.  (To be fair, he lives over an hour away.) I have always been positive I could count on him if I ever needed him.

Recently, my caree had a severe decline in health and it was a scary situation. I called my sibling and asked he visit my caree. He told me he was very busy (who isn’t?). I don’t do this very often (this was the only time this year and probably longer than that), but I pushed and made it clear he needed to visit. He did but it was obvious he wasn’t happy about it.

Shortly after that visit, I visited him at his house with my caree. My sister-in-law “talked” with me about how I shouldn’t have pushed, I am not my sibling’s “mom” and that I was completely wrong to insist my caree be visited by this sibling. Both she and my sibling made comments to the effect that the caree “wasn’t dying.” I was very hurt since I asked him to visit not just as support for my caree but for me too (maybe even more for me).

My relationship with my sibling has always been solid. I feel a paradigm shift here and I’m not liking it. I am inclined to continue to update my sibling on my caree’s condition but not insist on visits — even rarely. I think I need to accept my sibling’s part of caregiving is strictly financial and mine is hands-on. Is this the right approach? Was I expecting too much to insist on the visit?

Signed, Anti-Change

Hi A-C,

I’m so glad you find the website helpful.

You and your brother obviously share a special bond, which is why you looked to him during a very frightening time. I think our relationships with our siblings are so important to us because siblings are the ones in our life who share our personal history. They know–we don’t have to explain anything.

What’s interesting to me is our shared history doesn’t mean we share the same priorities or values or perspectives. This can be sooo frustrating and, often, very painful.

I found that making requests means I have to let go of what I expect others to do as a result of my request. My expectation for myself is that I make a clear request–asking for what I need and explaining why it’s important to me.

Here’s the trick: Once I make the request, I let go of the outcome. I speak up, explain what I need and why it’s important to me. That’s all I can do. I have to leave the outcome (what others decide about my request) up to them. And, I have to trust that the decision they make is right for them.

Which of course leads to the next tricky part: A decision that’s right for them may not be right for me. I have to accept that.

I did a talk show I did in 2010 on making requests that may help; you can listen to it here.

When something like the decline happens again, update your brother. Let him know you’d love a visit if he can. Then (this sounds nutty but I find it works) let him know how grateful you are for him. You also could ask, “How often would you like me to update you on this situation?” When he tells you, you both understand how to go forward.

Then, move to what you need–love and support from others in your life. Lean on those who can be the comforting presence for you during those scary and upsetting times. You also could look to build support now for any future upsets. Ask others now if they could be available to support you in another crisis with phone calls, email messages and, if possible, visits. (Actually, I’m working on creating something like this–support in the hospital for family caregivers–so look out for updates on this from me.)

You mention that you’re feeling a shift in your relationship with your brother. I wonder if you could look at the shift as one in perspectives, but not one in how you both feel about each other. Certainly, a shift has taken place–you look at your brother differently now, at least temporarily. Feel the disappointment and hurt. When you can, reset your expectations and then move into accepting him and his decisions. Look at what happened as communication about boundaries; your brother and sister-in-law have set a boundary. That’s okay. Keep the love in your heart for him (and her). There’s room in your life for him to make different decisions and have other priorities and for you to continue to love him. Know he will always love you. Let this be a bump, rather than a fork, in the road.

Finally, I also wonder if it feels like you did something wrong–certainly your sister-in-law chiding you couldn’t feel good. It’s always right to express what you need. Let go of any regrets you may have over what happened. You did what felt right to you during a really stressful time. You can never go wrong doing that.

Hope this helps!

Stumped by an on-going struggle? Searching for meaning in your journey? You’re not alone! Family caregivers ask Denise M. Brown, Editor and Publisher,, for her insights and suggestions to their caregiving conundrums. Have a question for Denise? Just e-mail her. Denise will do her best to answer questions within 24 hours.

If you or your caree are in a crisis, we urge you to call a health care professional immediately for assistance. Denise only provides general insights about general situations. You should always consult your own lawyer, financial planner, health care professional and other professional advisors for advice specific to your situation.

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About Denise Brown

I began working with family caregivers in 1990 and launched in 1996 to help and support them. Through my blog, I share words of comfort and offer coping strategies and tips. I also write opinion pieces about recent research, community programs and media coverage of caregiving issues. I've written several caregiving books, including "The Caregiving Years, Six Stages to a Meaningful Journey," "Take Comfort, Reflections of Hope for Caregivers" and "After Caregiving Ends, A Guide to Beginning Again." You can purchase my books and schedule a coaching call with me in our store.

2 thoughts on “Ask Denise: What Do I Do When I Will and My Sibling Won’t?

  1. Heather

    One other thing that I noticed in my experience with hospice (as an employee) was that some family members have a huge desire to preserve the memory of a person “as they were” and avoid contact as someone deteriorates. It is hard to articulate it as they are living it, because it would have to acknowledge that things are changing and that can be really hard.

  2. Trish

    Denise, I’m always amazed by your perspective on things. Letting go of the outcome – genius! I need to work on that myself. Thanks for having this column too. I’ve always loved reading Ann Landers & Dear Abby. You’re our own Dear Denise! :-)


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