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My brother has Lou Gehrig's and his wife is an excellent caregiver. But now she refuses to have us visit. Should we arrive unannounced, so we can say our farewells?


Question:  My brother was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's in May 2010 and has deteriorated a lot in last six months. His wife is an excellent caregiver, 24/7, as he now needs everything done. He now has swallowing and breathing problems, and must decide whether to have a feeding tube. His wife has been refusing assistance from me and my sisters. None of us has ever had a falling out with either of them, but she refuses help and now refuses to have us visit — even our mum. We all live over 1,000 kilometres away. If we ring and say we want to come she makes excuses. We are afraid our brother may soon be unable to talk and we want to get our mum to visit. We feel as a family we have the right to visit and say farewells while we can. We think it may be best to just arrive without telling them. What do you think?

Dr. Amy:  This is a distressing time for you and your family. I am sorry your brother is ill. Before you make plans to drop in unannounced, I encourage you to talk with your sister-in-law. Have you told her exactly what you said to me in your letter? My advice is to be very open and direct, in a loving way. Tell her you love your brother and are afraid that if you don't visit soon you may not get to say your farewells before it's too late. Tell her how this would make you feel and how your mother and sisters would feel. It's obvious to you, your sisters and mother why you want to visit. But it may not be clear to her. 

Let her know, too, that you have noticed that she seems to be reluctant to have you visit. Ask her if there is something preventing her from wanting you to come. It's important to understand her feelings and see if you can resolve her concerns constructively. Is she so overwhelmed that she can't think about putting you up or ‘entertaining' you? You can reassure her that you will stay at a hotel and do not expect her to cook for you. 

I have a feeling that when you explain your motives, your sister-in-law will agree to your visiting. Your desire to see your brother is perfectly natural. If she still resists, then you have a decision to make about dropping by unannounced, and how to manage that so that you have a successful visit.

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