This article is part of News is Out’s Caring for Community series, which is focused on the challenges and triumphs of giving and receiving care in the LGBTQ+ community. These stories have been created through a strategic partnership between AARP and News is Out.
There is no greater gift one can give than to care for an aging parent. As the number of seniors worldwide continues to grow, family caregivers will become a more prevalent part of society. The personality traits possessed by LGBTQ+ siblings make us uniquely qualified to lead these efforts. Being LGBTQ+ is a gift we can share. If homophobia from family members exists, the LGBTQ+ caregiver must meet this challenge with bravery and confidence. Caregiving is the great leveler and the time to put all other issues aside. When we do this, all siblings are on equal footing, with equal responsibilities and obligations. The caregiving siblings’ sexual orientation/gender identity becomes moot.
It may be difficult to accept that your parents now need your help. Among your siblings, determine who will be the primary care provider(s) and what support other family members will provide. To the primary caregiver, the needs of the parents are more obvious and most likely will become more intense; even progressing to a full-time job. Consider who is most able, willing, skilled, and emotionally prepared to fill this role. Then consider what other family members can contribute in time or money.
When we reunite with family, we tend to slip into our old roles. One sibling was the “executive” one, one was the “personable” one, one was the “helpless” one. Those roles do not necessarily define you today. Take a fresh look at your siblings and start anew, remembering the ultimate goal is to care for your parents.
This is an opportune time to improve family relationships. Sibling rivalry is a normal part of growing up. Caregiving can be a time of healing for such rivalry. Family meetings are one way to unite in clarifying the situation, working out conflicts and setting up a care plan. Thanks to Zoom and Microsoft Teams, these meetings are easier to schedule and conduct. If the meeting is likely to be contentious, involve a trusted outside party who will ensure that all participants have a chance to be heard. You may need more than one meeting. Siblings need to be honest with each other about their abilities and willingness to help in their parents’ care. It’s important that everyone is on the same page to ensure the safety and comfort of your parent(s).
After you’ve held family meetings, everyone concerned should have a clear idea of the medical status of your parents and their needs. Focus on the facts. Listen to what your siblings have to say. Be willing to compromise and try new solutions. Not everyone thinks, feels or acts the same way. Be honest and realistic about the financial and emotional concerns of your family members.
Accept your siblings for who they are. This is where an LGBTQ+ caregiver has a distinct advantage. We are well-practiced at accepting people for who they are since we hope to be accepted for who we are. Strive for clear expectations and to accept your siblings’ personalities, abilities and limitations. Remove anger and frustration from interactions with your siblings. Applying guilt will only lead to resentment and tension that will not be productive in addressing the challenges at hand.
LGBTQ+ siblings may be asked to take care of parents because they do not have kids and, therefore, are perceived as having a larger discretionary income. This is a myth. The presence of children in any household is not a “free pass” to excuse one from participating in the care of an aging parent. Likewise, the vast majority of Americans spend 30% of their income on housing, so just because a sibling lives in a big, expensive house does not necessarily mean they have extra money at the end of every month.
It is imperative for all long-distance siblings to spend a weekend (or even a day) as the sole caregiver to get a firsthand view of the issues. Long-distance siblings can help with finances, and they can provide companionship to your parents with phone calls, Skype/ZOOM and writing letters.
Be realistic. Some LGBTQ+ caregivers don’t want help or can’t rely on help from siblings who are undependable or unavailable. If you’re in this situation, acknowledge it to yourself, accept that you’re on your own and work to make the process as efficient and caring as possible while still attending to your own health and well-being. The most helpful advice and assistance can come from a trusted friend who has been through the process before. Regardless of their position within the family care structure, they will provide insight you may use to improve your situation.
Lean into caregiving. Nothing is more rewarding than caring for aging parents to the end of their lives. It’s not only cathartic, but it can reduce your grief upon their passing. Knowing you did everything you could to make their lives comfortable, safe and secure will provide you with unending solace.
Robert Emery is a founding board member of the Coalition for Aging LGBT.