Ask an Expert: What About My Resentment?


Ask an Expert: What About My Resentment?


sunset-210466_640Dear Denise,

I have been taking care of my Mom for the last three years and we are reaching the end of our journey together. She has stage 4 lung cancer that has spread to other areas of the body. She is under hospice care now and seems to be comfortable with minimal pain. I have enjoyed the time I have had with her and wouldn't trade it for anything. Now she is becoming more mentally confused and harder to deal with. I feel a sense of guilt because I get aggravated with her. In my mind, not ever outwardly. It bothers me that my sister is "too busy" to help with Moms care and now that it is getting to be more of a challenge I find myself becoming resentful of my sister. I realize that this is not productive. How do I handle the resentment that I feel for my sister from affecting our relationship going forward. She is the only sister I have, and I am afraid I will carry these feelings with me for a long time. How could she just ignore the fact that our mother is dying and go on with her life like nothing is happening. She has stayed with Mom one night through this whole process and I had to ask her for that.



Dear Son,

First, I am so sorry about your mom. I can tell you have provided loving, wonderful care.

I completely understand the aggravation. Anyone would feel aggravated in your situation. It takes a huge amount of patience to provide the care you are. We have a limited amount of patience, which means we need to refill that bottle of patience whenever we can. When you start to feel frustrated, do what you can to step away--take a breather in another room, walk out in the backyard, get a glass of water, listen to music that invigorates you. An increasing level of aggravation simply means you need a breather, a break. No need to feel guilty--your body is simply sending you a signal to take care of yourself. After you take a few moments away, you'll feel better about being there for your mom.

I also completely understand the resentment of your sister. A few thoughts:

  • Perhaps she's not ignoring your mom's declining health. Perhaps she's actually denying it. Perhaps she's paralyzed by fear. We all cope with difficult emotional experiences differently. You are able to cope which is why you are the one providing care. Maybe your sister simply doesn't know how to cope so she's frozen in a state of not helping. Or perhaps she only copes the way she can, by staying in denial.

  • Because your sister helped when you asked, I think it's worth another try. You could say, "Because Mom is nearing the end, I would love for you to spend as much time with her as you can. And, when you spend time with Mom, I take a break, which is really helpful. Could we organize a schedule for you to regularly come to help?" She may balk, she may agree and then later bail, she may step up and help out more. You can't control what she does but you can give yourself peace of mind knowing you did what you could. (If she agrees to help, you may want to have a back-up plan in place, just in case she later bails.)

  • You also could ask the social worker with the hospice organization to meet with you and your sister. The goal of the meeting would be to understand how you and your sister can work effectively together. The social worker can be the objective third-party which may help you get more help from your sister.

If your sister can't help, still meet with the hospice social worker to find out about getting help so you can get breaks. Hospice benefits include a five-day respite benefit, which may be useful for you.

As frustrating as it with your sister now, know that your future will include peace of mind. You stayed, especially when it become really difficult. If your sister continues to be uninvolved, she will have to live with consequences of her decisions. I think you can let go of resenting your sister because, at some point, she may not be able to forgive herself for missing one of life's most important responsibilities--helping a loved one during their last years.

I hope this helps!

Thanks so much for writing. My very best to you.

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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