DEAR AMY: I am the oldest of three daughters. I have lived 600 miles away from my family for 25 years, but I have always been close with my mother. She has stage 4 metastatic breast cancer and emphysema. My youngest sister has mental health issues and is unable to cope with much beyond her own well-being. My middle sister has devoted little time to any of us. I tried for years to have a close relationship with her. Sadly, she only seems to call me when she is in need. I have often been hurt by her inattention. Recently, she purchased a home near our winter residence; I was excited that we might finally have a chance to "bond," but she never seems to have time for me. After trying for many years to have an emotionally intimate relationship with her, I gave up. Now, she seems to have assumed the role of caregiver for our mother, which is wonderful. I sit here thinking how childish our situation is in light of my mother's declining health, and feeling guilty that we are not "playing nice" for my mother's benefit. Do you have any insight?
-- Older, But Not Wiser
DEAR OLDER: If you feel guilty about not "playing nice," then you could easily alleviate your guilt by . . . playing nice.
Parental illness frequently brings out unexpected qualities in siblings. Some people run for the hills, while others step up. Dealing with your mother's illness gives your sister an opportunity to be useful. She deserves a lot of credit for taking the opportunity.
The fact is that you may not develop a radically different or new-and-improved intimate relationship with your sister. What you can do is determine to show up -- actually and figuratively. Acknowledge and thank your sister for her efforts. Ask her to give you a job to do so you could take some of the burden off her shoulders. For instance, you might be able to deal with insurance issues, even from a distance.
You have been close to your mother for all of this time. Share her with your sister, and your relationship may improve.