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They're Your Parents, Too! How Siblings Can Survive Their Parent' Aging Without Driving Each Other Crazy - by Francine Russo   Amazon | Borders | Barnes & Noble
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“...a stunning book about one of the most complex but ignored times of human transition... unique in the field of close relationships…"

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Pauline Boss,  Author, Ambiguous Loss (Harvard University Press) 

"...Not to be missed ...More than a how-to book, this groundbreaking work illuminates a difficult stage of life..."

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Monday
Jun212010

"My brother says, 'If you want to spend your inheritance on hired help for the folks, that's up to you.'"

Dear Francine,

I am having a very hard time dealing with my siblings and my parents' caregiving. Both my parents are 87 years old and had been living on their own in a condo in Maryland. I have three siblings, the older and younger brother living in the same town as my parents.  I live about a 45 minute car ride away and my older sister lives about 400 miles away in Massachusetts.

About three years ago, my older brother and his fiance, announced that they had talked with my parents in private and all four had agreed that Paul would be given his inheritance early so that he could purchase property on a small beach nearby and build a house for my parents to live on the first floor and he and his wife would live on the second and third floors.  My father was slowing down quite a bit and we all knew they would need some help at some point in the near future. My brother's wife was to work out of the house and be there for my parents as their needs grew.

We all agreed it was a lovely idea, but I had some questions that went unanswered.  I was uncomfortable with the fact that no one else in the family was included in the decision making - my brother and sister-in-law had come up with the idea on there own, presented it to my parents, and they all agreed and went ahead with the project.  They told the rest of us after the decision was made and the property purchased.

The house took a bit longer to build than originally expected and my fathers health had taken a turn for the worse. He had several small strokes, a possible small heart attack and was showing signs of dementia or Alzheimer disease as well as Parkinson's.  He was falling quite a bit and now is at the point where he doesn't remember who I am.

While the house was being built, my sister-in-law was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer, has been through several rounds of chemotherapy and her outlook is not good.  Needless to say, she has not been able to help my parents as planned and my brother is overwhelmed with the house, his own work and taking care of his wife.

I have two children of my own and have found it difficult to get to to my parents' house on a regular basis to help out.  I looked into many resources for the elderly living at home and along with the family, agreed to hire someone from a home care service to come in a few times a week to help out with my dad and also give my mother a chance to get out to go shopping or play mah jongg.  It took a while for my parents to agree to this, and they both go back and forth about not wanting or needing the help - but they do need it and will need more of it in the near future since there is no plan for them to go to any kind of assisted living facility.  All of their money was put into the house and what wasn't, goes to their bills and daily living expenses.

We have family meetings a few times during the year on what we all can do to help out, and update everyone on the parents health,  but it always comes down to my sister and older brother telling us that each of us needs to spend  more time with our parents instead of relying on "outside" help.  Meaning spending the day cleaning, shopping, teaching dad to use a walker (which he refuses to do) - do physical therapy with him, drive them to doctors visits, etc..  I am having a hard time accepting this because it was not something I agreed to do originally because of my own life situation and would have appreciated being in on the original decision making.  Not only is a lot expected from all of us because of the situation with my sister-in-law, but my brother, as kind and well meaning a soul that he is, received his inheritance, built a million dollar house with my parents financial help, and when I talk to him about getting mom and dad a land line, (he insists that they use only cell phones) someone to come and clean the house on a regular basis, or extra help, he always says "well, it's your inheritance, if you want to spend it on that stuff, it's up to you"

I don't know what to do with my feelings because I feel so strongly that my parents need more help than my siblings realize and I am angry that we weren't included in the initial decision to build this house and feel guilty because of all these feelings! Should I just let it all go as they want me to do and suck it up and do what is expected of me?
Thanks so much!
~ Donna

 

Dear Donna,

What a mess. And it has come out of a combination of good intentions (Motives are always mixed, but let’s give everyone the benefit of the doubt), mistakes in planning and communicating, and…Fate! No one can predict when people will get ill, no matter their age. And your poor brother.  Sure , he got the money, but he may lose his wife to cancer!

 There is absolutely no point in being angry about what can’t be undone. That anger will just eat you up and will not serve you. The question is: what to do now?

 It’s great that your family has meetings and talks to each other. The way I read your family (based, at least, on the way you present things)  is that there is a lot of love—and a lot of guilt. Your siblings can’t help as much as they want to or feel they should, and so in their dilemma, they want others to make up for what they can’t do for your parents. Everyone is struggling: What do I owe my parents? What do I owe my spouse and kids? What kind of person do I want to be? How can I balance everybody’s needs, practical and emotional, including my own? Your parents are also struggling with their side of these issues.

I advise you to think carefully about what you are willing and not willing to do for your parents, given your life and what you feel is right. Your siblings’ demands that you spend more face-to-face time with your parents instead of having paid help seems unreasonable to me—although understandable and worthy of compassion. Set clear boundaries, present them to everyone, and initiate a discussion about how the rest will be taken care of by everyone in concert, whether through money or time.

 The money piece is unfortunate. No one has an “inheritance” until their parents die and bequeath it to them. Despite what your parents’ have done with your brother (which they believed would benefit them in their lifetime), whatever money they have is their own, to be used for their own benefit and care until they die.  So nobody should be thinking of their money as your “inheritance.”

As families, we have no model for how to do any of this. It used to be that if you lived to be 87—a rare old age!— and had some money, you were sure to die soon and leave it to your kids. No more. Because your parents grew up in a very different time, they couldn’t foresee that their natural wish to leave a legacy to their children might not have been realistic. And your siblings are also dealing with all these new realities. So cut everyone some slack—and don’t forget yourself.

 

 

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Reader Comments (1)

I can truly empathize with what this person is going through. Family caregiving issues are some of the most difficult and stressful of all. I am a Geriatric Care Manager and see family conflicts all of the time. It is why my company now also offers Elder Mediation. It is a wonderful process that allows family members to openly discuss how they are feeling. A neutral resource can ensure that all members are heard and also has the skills to see where there is agreement and build on that so families can work together vs. against each other. When elder mediators are used, there are successful outcomes 85-90% of the time. Please see if there is an elder mediator in your area. They can help you and your family develop a plan that works for everyone.

June 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLisa Fuller

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