Thursday, July 16, 2009

Got Squabbles? Conversations With and About the Elders in Your Life

If you are a Boomer, chances are you have already experienced or are about to experience some difficult conversations with the aging relatives in your life. Or, you may be on the verge of becoming the elder in your family with whom others will one day face a similarly challenging conversation. Whether it is about when to hand over the keys, or the checkbook, or when living alone in the family home is no longer safe, the list can be endless when strong wills face each other on the question of personal independence.

We are delighted that our colleagues, Debbie Reinberg and John Rymers, are hosting a forum where families and individuals can speak openly about some of these difficult conversations. On August 10, Debbie and John will be at Capabilities, listening and offering important tips and advice. Skilled mediators, they operate a business called ELDEResolutions in metro Denver, offering their talents and experiences to families facing sometimes one of their most difficult chapters.

As our guest blogger this week, Debbie tells us more about why family meetings are so essential. You can contact Debbie and John at or at 303/268-2282.

Facing an Elder Crisis: Consider a Family Meeting

Some families are able to share emotions and ideas and develop a plan of action, without assistance. A good family meeting creates a process for members to share their personal observations and concerns. And, it also provides a mechanism to march forward, defining roles and expectations clearly.

My family is such a family – most of the time! When my mother started showing signs of cognitive decline (in her mid-60’s), my three sisters and I were each concerned about what that really meant – for my father, my mother and for us. We live in four different time zones and the closest sister to my parents was 300 miles away. So, we started talking. First, it was two people at a time, by phone. Then, we started to use Instant Messaging to have “joint” conversations. Amazingly, Dad started to join us for some of those internet discussions. And, we were able, as a group, to gently share our sorrow and our concerns with him. He really appreciated the emotional support and continued to let us know that the “practical” things were taken care of. As a devoted spouse and a rather young and able caregiver, he readily rejected most of our concerns and did a pretty good job of caregiving. We continued, of course, to worry about his well-being (he had several serious health care alarms during his caregiving years), yet we agreed to trust his judgment and his role as master decision-maker.

And, we still worry. Now that there is no “young and able” spouse/caregiver to make decisions, we worry about Dad’s physical and cognitive health. He certainly likes to control his own life, but he doesn’t seem to be doing activities that truly benefit his wellbeing. Although he moved to be close to one daughter, he often refuses her invitations to join their family for events. He stays close to home. He complains that he doesn’t like to cook, but rejects most offers to join others. He is usually home, alone (unless he is doing a quick errand.)

My sisters and I have been talking. We’re all going to be together for the weekend for a family event. Hoping to have a family meeting – WITH Dad – to share our concerns and help him develop a plan. None of us are typically “bold” enough to just tell him what we think (we tend to be reluctant to “make waves”.)

Perhaps it would be helpful for a professional facilitator to help us get to the next step. A neutral professional could free everyone up to talk openly, in a safe environment - even my father! We could all rely on the facilitator to keep us on track with the important topics and help us actually address the issues that need to be tackled. An impartial neutral could also help ensure that we find the common ground necessary to make the right decisions, as a family.

Sometimes, families just can’t get where they need to be without an extra push.

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