“My three brothers make me furious,” said 60-year-old Lynn during a psychotherapy session. “I’m caring for their mother, and they hardly ever call her or me. They are so wrapped up in their own lives. But what about us?”
I empathized with Lynn. Over more than three decades speaking with caregivers, I’d heard more anger expressed about neglectful adult siblings than any other caregiving challenge. I’d also seen many caregivers try and fail to rectify this unfair treatment by family members who supposedly loved them. What Lynn said next didn’t surprise me.
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“When I have tried bringing this up with them,” she went on, “I’ve gotten nowhere. One brother makes promises to help which he doesn’t keep. He says his wife puts a lot of demands on him at home. Another brother gets angry at me for trying to control him. A third doesn’t even return my calls anymore. I don’t know what to do.”
Many caregivers, such as Lynn, eventually decide to stop beating their heads against a seeming brick wall and bitterly accept their siblings won’t assist them. They announce they will never talk with those siblings again after their parent’s funeral. It’s not unusual for them to follow through with this, leading to the family’s permanent dissolution.
Before making that decision, however, I suggest they attempt one last effort to engage neglectful siblings in what should be a united effort to support a common parent. I recommend, however, a “revolutionary” method for reaching out which sometimes helps caregivers break through the thicket of busyness, denial and procrastination many brothers and sisters hide behind. I call it “The Letter” — literally a handwritten missive placed in an envelope with a licked stamp and a hand-scrawled address. Since most communication is conducted instantly nowadays by text, Facebook message, email, videoconferencing and phone, it is almost shocking for wayward family members to receive information via this somewhat old-fashioned method.
So how can neglected adult child caregivers effectively craft the letter? There are several steps: