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dealing with a borderline sibling while caring for dad

dearfoam's picture
Posts: 82
Joined: Apr 2011

Does anyone have any tips one dealing with the out-of-town borderline sibling? Our dependent dad has stage 4 melanoma, in the brain and lungs, and he is doing "OK" at the moment, all things considered. Not so sound trite, I know she has a very real problem of her own (but will not get help), but I cannot handle it and have been no-contact since an incident a few weeks ago. She can't keep her emotions under control with her own regular stresses, adding this dad is dying part is the icing on the cake, and she tried to twist it all into a crazy episode about her.

I've been called everything you can imagine but for now she is ignoring me which is a relief. We had to tell her not to come back to our house. Our parents are divorced so I really don't have anyone to mediate. She is on dad's email list and I send something out every now and then. I just know eventually things will not be looking good for dad and I will have to deal with her, not only over the phone or email, but in person.

She has expressed a lot of greed in addition to freaking out if asked to help when he isn't at the top of his game. I know having a terminally ill parent sucks, I'm living with it everyday! Is it OK to only email her group messages via my dad's account? In my mind, the phone works both ways and she can call him to arrange if she wants to visit, etc. I am not comfortable arranging anything to do with her.

I am trying to not feel guilty for not bending over backwards to make sure she (and her young kids who I love) and dad have some quality time in his probably last 4-6 months. I did not forbid her from visiting, just that she will not be at my house when she is unstable (she gets aggressive at the drop of a pin). I'd happily get them all a hotel up the street, but she is the type to pull every excuse to make things difficult, and anyway, she has not mentioned wanting to come back for a visit. I don't think he would want to go to her house to spend the night, besides she wouldn't "be comfortable" giving him his pills and whatnot.

It is such an awkward place to be. It feels a lot like when my divorced parents gave each other grief (via me) over the phone when I was a kid, guess who was the one who had to ask "where is the child support check?" and who unknowingly had to tell the other what BS he said.

I just love being responsible!!!

palmyrafan's picture
Posts: 397
Joined: Mar 2011

Wow....this could go either way.

Fist of all, your father may not have a lot of time left and he has 2 daughters that are at odds with each other when they should be pulling together to help him.

Me personally? I would take the high road no matter how painful it is. You said yourself that you love your nieces and nephews and they are father's grandchildren. I wouldn't necessarily call your sister and invite to hang out with you, but I would keep her informed of the situation with your dad, if for no other reason, he is her dad too. I would send her a private email, separate from the group email you send to others. This respects her privacy, her feelings and doesn't leave you having to explain how come your sister is being included in a group email instead of a private one.

Also, be firm with your sister. If you are the one left to make the decisions about your father (does he have a Living Will or an Advance Directive), either through his wishes or because you are the the only one there, take a stand with your sister and tell her how things will be. If you father has yet to make a Living Will or Advance Directive, talk to him about it. Make sure HIS wishes are accounted for, not everyone else's. It's a difficult conversation to have, I know, because I had to talk to my husband about what my wishes are when I can't decide them any longer for myself.

It sounds like your sister does not handle stress well. Nothing wrong with that, we all have our crosses to bear, some are harder than others. She may secretly be happy that you are the one making the tough decisions so she doesn't have to. She could also be trying to make this all about herself because she feels left out of everything. She is probably just as scared at losing her dad as you are but she shows it differently than you do.

Regardless, you don't want to spend the rest of your life doing the "woulda, coulda, shoulda" with your sister. Once your dad has passed on, it will be too late to make any changes and then you are filled with a lifetime of regret. Please don't let it come to that.


dearfoam's picture
Posts: 82
Joined: Apr 2011

I'm just reminding dad to call her since he can use his phone (even though she doesn't call him). She's an extremely irrational person due to her own illness, and unfortunately, doesn't act in a logical manner at all. It's a mess for her and those around her.

Dad's business is all in my hands, so to speak. We had the living will and Power of Attorney done a while back (which sister called my "power trip" in the same fit she exclaimed she didn't want to help by visiting with him for one day vs over 4 months for us), but you are certainly right that she is happy to not be in charge of this situation. I definitely won't exclude her from real news or discourage dad to talk to her, but still, with a borderline person things explode out of proportion very easily, and I can't directly call her and maintain my sanity. It's awful but just the way it is for now.

I think once we get to the hospice end of the equation, the social worker will be able to help mediate in a way, and perhaps I can enlist willing neutral family to help talk with her. I won't prohibit her form seeing him and all that, just very supervised and will want a SW or someone present so she will be on her best behavior. And I don't mean to sound like I don't love my sister, too, it's just really, really dysfunctional and I can do no good in her eyes when she is like this. She won't go to therapy to get the help she's needed for years, esp the past 2 years where she has gotten much worse (as in dangerous). That's why I can't have her at my house unless it is a whole family gathering.

I realize I am just venting. I couldn't ever really explain this whole thing, it is so long running and crazy. None of us are saints, of course, but if you ever read up on cases of borderline personality disorder, you might be in for a shock at how helpless the situations are for all involved unless the person wants and seeks and follows through with help (mostly cognitive/ dialectical therapy).

I'm also a little frazzled tonight because dad's very old dog is not doing well, either, and it hurts to see my dad struggle to cope. He just won't really talk about it any more than he will really talk about how things are for him.

ButterflyLake's picture
Posts: 44
Joined: May 2011

I wish I could give you a hug. I was in a similar boat (both with the divorce animosity and being the responsible one (always, but throughout my mom's cancer). My sibling has problems that are too numerous to mention. The only thing that helps me is to think that if the sibling were capable of doing more, they would. The reality is that they can't. And despite what anyone says (and in my experience, people have freely given me a hard time about this), if your sibling is combative and just generally toxic and unsafe, it is OKAY for you to stop the communication. Caregiving is hard enough and it is not about her! It's about your dad and keeping yourself healthy and coming from a place of compassion.

All you can control is keeping your good intentions in place and not putting energy into trying to fix the unfixable. When it's all said and done, she will be the one who has to deal with what her relationship is/was with your dad. Not you. You'll be left with the knowing that you gave him the best care you could.

Wishing you peace as you continue on your road.

P.S. So glad to hear you've got all the legal documentation in place. It does make things easier.

Posts: 306
Joined: Jan 2010

I pray the following for you, in no particular order:
- Pleasant experiences now for good memories later of your Dad.
- A comfortable place for your father to transition to the next phase of life.
- Continued health, and mental wellness for you.
- Minimal legal problems for you afterwards.
- The strength to make them all happen.


Barbara53's picture
Posts: 658
Joined: Aug 2009

DF, my former husband was a borderline personality who eventually fell apart. I think the safe distancing you're doing is brilliant.

My mom is my patient, but here at home our 17-year-old dog is in doggie hospice. Instead of morphine depedency, she's developing bologna dependency. We've blocked off stairs so she can't fall, wash her blankets every couple of days, and let's not forget bolonga.

Hope everyone sleeps better tonight.

palmyrafan's picture
Posts: 397
Joined: Mar 2011

I was diagnosed about 25 years ago with Borderline Personality Disorder. This was before my brain cancer was detected. Long story short - the doctors determined that it was due to my brain tumors and that once the bulk of the tumors were removed, so was my Borderline Personality Disorder.

I do understand about not being in control of your thoughts, feelings, emotions and flying into rages at the drop of a hat.

I am so sorry that you are having to deal with all of this, as well as the potential loss of your father's beloved dog. We lost our beloved cat Sable in January of this year after he graced our lives with 18 glorious years. We are still coming to grips with that and trying to deal with my brain cancer too.

You are going through a difficult time right now and it will get worse before it gets better. You and your family will continue to be in my thoughts and prayers.


dearfoam's picture
Posts: 82
Joined: Apr 2011

I joke, too, that we are running doggie hospice. Our own dogs are much younger, but this one is squeaking by on prednisone for now. Our vet thinks he ate some grass in the back yard and upset his system. But he is also 16 and just going to have bad days...

Dad is still riding high this week and feeling good. We go for new CT at the end of Aug to see how things are going. I think by then enough time will have passed that when we talk with family about the latest news, it will be a little easier.

I first learned about the BPD about three years ago. Had some unpleasant encounters before that and since. Until we (family) found out this was "something," we were at a loss. I've tried so hard to be a loving and supporting sister through this, but have gotten burned a lot, too, because most of my adult life have been an unwitting enabler. It seems like she is so smart, the dialectical behavior therapy would be easy for her, not invasive or relying on drugs, but she always finds a reason not to go.

I'll just keep hoping she will eventually follow through, and at the very least we can have a peaceful exchange the next time that comes around.

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