Dear Dr. Meg,
I am desperate for advice. I will try to make it quick. In a nutshell, I am a devout catholic, mother of four and happily married to a wonderful man. For the past 8 1/2 years I have walked hand-in-hand with my sister through many trials such a her husband’s brain tumor, job loss, his addiction, his affair, and lastly his suicide in which he left her and four kids. Now I walk with her through her grief, her sadness & loneliness, her aftermath of an unhealthy relationship with her late husband and her online dating. I am haunted by the suicide every time I go back to the family farm where my sister & dad found him dead. I feel I have a good head on my shoulders and a strong faith, but feel very foggy and am out of energy. Amongst all that, we’ve lost my mother-in-law this past year & now my dad has cancer.
What should I do?
I’m going to talk to my priest but feel I need counseling from all of this. I want to give 150% to my family but feel this weighs me down. Any words of wisdom would be more than greatly appreciated. Thank you for all that you do in speaking out for today’s family!
Grateful For Advice
You, my friend, are experiencing emotional burnout. You have shouldered more than most sisters ever do in a relatively short period of time. Here is what happens to strong women like you when you walk with a loved one through so many tragedies:
First, because you have so lovingly cared for your sister (and her children I assume) you put your own feelings to the side in order to help her. This works for a while but after months or years of this, your heart catches up and screams for help, too. In other words, you may have never allowed yourself to fully grieve the losses that you have witnessed and experienced.
Second, even if the events didn’t bother you, (your brother-in-law’s illnesses, drinking, suicide, etc) simply caring for your sister through all of them will absolutely drain you. Even women such as you with a strong faith, good support system and good head on your shoulders, wear out. God made our hearts, minds and bodies with release valves in order to let us know when it’s time to back off. Your release valves are going off and you need help now.
I strongly urge you to go to a good Christian counselor. Your priest is a great resource and comfort, but you need a trained counselor who can help you with two things in particular. He/she must help you grieve the losses that you felt between your brother-in-law’s illnesses and death and grieve the loss of your mother-in-law and your father’s cancer. You have been in survival mode until this point and now is the time for you to begin to heal.
Additionally, a good counselor will help you help your sister. Very often loved ones take on more than they can bear and cross healthy boundaries when helping the hurting party. You have probably taken on your sister’s pain in order to protect her and now you are paying the price. A Christian counselor will help you figure out what you can do for your sister and then show you what you absolutely must turn over to God.
Remember, God’s got your sister in the palm of His kind hand and He loves her more than you do. He has your father there, too. You can trust Him with their souls but sometimes we need Him in human form and that is where a good Christian counselor comes in. So ask your priest or friends for a recommendation. Please write to me in six months and let me know how you are doing.