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Q: I am writing to you because I have a problem that I just don’t know how to handle. The problem is my younger sister “Carin,” who has some emotional problems, and she is very angry, resentful, and is a very negative person. It is hard to be around her because even when she is trying to be nice, you never know when things will blow up. Also, she misinterprets so much of what is going on in the world.
Carin doesn’t live here – she lives about five hours away, but she wants to come and live with me and my partner. My partner and I have both discussed this and know it would play havoc with our relationship and our lives to have her living with us. Besides, I just can’t be around here for that long and stay kind to her. After about three days, I am ready to get just as nasty and negative as she is, and that is not who I want to be.
We entertained the idea of bringing her here and help her get an apartment, but we also realize that she would always want more than we could or would want to give; that is one of her problems, anyone she’s around very long, she eventually alienates because she demands too much from them.
I call my sister every week and go to visit her once a month. Carin has enough money to live on as my parents left her a trust fund and their house when they died. I have tried to get her into mental health therapy, but she won’t go because she doesn’t think there is anything wrong with her. She can’t drive so she has a lot of trouble getting to appointments, buying groceries and such. I worry about her living alone because she sometimes seems confused and depressed but other times she is OK. I have suggested that I would help her look for living arrangements that are more supportive, but she won’t hear of it. She refuses to move out of my parents’ home unless she moves in with me.
I don’t seem to be able to help her unless I could prove that she is mentally incompetent and I am not willing to try that unless she gets much worse. When my dad died — my mother died before him — he made me promise to look after and take care of Carin, but without ruining my life, I can’t. Now I am struck feeling guilty that I can’t fulfill my promise. Furthermore, it is horrible to stand by and see my sister be so miserable without being able to do anything except be kind to her. My partner has been wonderful in this whole thing and will do pretty much anything to help her except let her live with us – which I agree with.
Jody, I feel so guilty for not keeping my promise to my dad. How do I deal with letting my dad down?
A: First, what were you supposed to say to your dad when he was dying: “No, I won’t take care of her.” However, I would argue that you are doing all you can to care for your sister without “ruining” your life. And I really don’t think that either of your parents would want you to sacrifice your life by having her in your home given her negative, angry, resentful and demanding personality – prone to explosive outbursts. (One would have to be self-destructive to want to live with a person like that.)
You check in on her regularly, offer to get her help, and are supporting her in the only way you can without destroying your life in the process. This is one of those life situations that doesn’t have a good and satisfying solution, yet in my opinion, you are doing the best anyone could do with it all.
Have a problem? Send your letters to: “Dear Jody,” C/O Between the Lines, 20793 Farmington Road, Suite 25, Farmington, MI 48336. Or, e-mail: DearJodyValley@hotmail.com (Your letters may be edited.)
(Jody Valley spent 12 years as a clinical social worker. She worked with the LGBT community both as a counselor and a workshop leader in the areas of coming out, self-esteem and relationship issues. The “Dear Jody” column appears weekly. )