Family Ties Guide Sisters Through Challenges With Mom

By Marsha Kay Seff

October 6, 2008 4 min read

The three Sisters Shea are lucky. They all live nearby and are able to share caregiving responsibilities for their mom.

And, perhaps, the best part, the sisters are extraordinarily close. They like each other and, more often than not, agree on what's best for their 95-year-old mom, Mary. There's no bickering and jockeying for control in this family.

Judy Benaderete, 68, is a retired executive secretary. Sarah Arnold, 64, is a retired executive assistant. And marketing assistant Suzie Reed, 58, is the baby of the family.

The four of us had planned to meet and talk about how well their mother was doing at her assisted-living facility. Then, days before our meeting, Mary, who used a walker, fell and broke her right hip. That's caregiving. Just when you think you have things under control, everything changes.

Mary moved, at least temporarily, to a skilled-nursing facility, where she uses a wheelchair. And the sisters changed gears.

Their mom had been driving and paying her own bills till she was 85. She moved to a San Diego County retirement community nine years ago. "Now, it takes all three of us," Judy says of making sure mom is happy and well cared for.

Judy is "captain of finances"; Sarah is "captain of medical care," and Suzie, "captain of shopping."

"We have to rely on each other," Judy says. So, the sisters stay in touch daily by phone and lots of e-mails. Suzie says they've been even closer since their brother died more than 30 years ago. "We realize how important family is, that you never know when someone will be gone."

Besides the calls and e-mails, the trio gets together frequently. "Sissy time" is important. "We talk about everything," Judy says.

Sometimes, though, they have to agree not to talk about their mom. "We need Mom-free dinners," Judy says.

"But we always get back around to her," Sarah admits.

Caregiving isn't always an easy walk on a walker, according to the sisters, who say they're fortunate their mother is pleasant and has a good sense of humor. Currently, the trio is trying to decide how to get their mother to embrace her wheelchair instead of returning to the walker. They're afraid she's too frail and will only fall again.

"We're real lucky," Suzie says. "You hear about sisters who can't get along."

They've had good family role models. Mary and her two brothers are still close. Vin, 96, lives in her retirement home, and Roy, 89, visits often with his wife, Marilyn, bearing ice cream.

"The laughter and sweetness we share have been passed down to us through watching our relatives," Sarah says.

Suzie's advice to other caregivers: "If possible, get together in person with the other people helping caretake or, if not in the same town, then e-mail. And have a healthy vent sometimes, too. Also, use every possible resource available to help with caretaking."

Sarah adds, "Be flexible with one another. And share what you're doing, so you can step in for each other."

"Don't be afraid to divvy up duties," Judy adds.

That's if you're lucky enough to have siblings willing and able to pitch in.

Marsha Kay Seff writes about aging for The San Diego Union-Tribune. Contact her at [email protected]


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