“You do know Sue, if something happens to Mom at this point, there’s no way Dad can stay in the house by himself”.
I still remember where I was parked when my sister spoke these words to me. Although our mom’s terminal cancer was “stable” at the time, our dad had entered into early stages of dementia and without her, would not be able to care for himself. Someone had to say it.
But we didn’t need to worry about that now, mom was fine, we had time.
I also remember the intense fight my sister and I had after our mother passed, while having a discussion about our father, moving him out, selling the house. My brother was in on this one too. It was not a discussion at all actually, it was a screaming match between me and my sister, wrought with grief. Two against one, and I was the odd man out. I knew intellectually what needed to be done, I just wasn’t ready emotionally for all that it meant. Someone had to say it.
I will add, my sister and I are extremely close, yet there we were.
It’s very difficult to have these conversations during a time of crises or grief.
There are many articles written about how adult children should approach these tough topics with their parents because it is so hard for any of us to face getting older and what these changes mean for all family members. I think there should be more written for parents along the lines of, “Talk to Your Adult Children Before Things Get Ugly, Because It Can Get Ugly”.
Have these conversations with your adult children now. Let them know what you want, but keep in mind their lives as well if what you want has a heavy impact on them. Don’t be afraid of hurting anyone’s feelings. You know your kids better than anyone. There’s potential for worse fall out and hard feelings amongst your children after you are gone. When you have these hard conversations ahead of time when things are good, your kids are secure in knowing your wishes and that they are doing the right thing by you in the future, because “Mom and Dad said so”.
Some pointers for families:
- Start Early
The sooner you begin to open up these conversations the better. No one is in crisis and it’s much less threatening for all involved.
- Ensure your Estate Planning is in proper order
Estate Planning is one of the most important things a family can be sure is buttoned up tight. Work with a qualified estate planning attorney to be sure your wishes/concerns are addressed fully in a legal capacity. Documents such as health care proxies and durable powers of attorney are critical to have in place at all times, but especially as we age.
While these may be generic legal documents, their impact is anything but. There’s a heavy human component to those pieces of paper, and you must be sure to choose a person(s) you know you can trust explicitly to carry out things the way you would want. A conversation should be had with anyone involved in your wishes. These directives will potentially be a huge responsibility for this person at some point. Be sure the person(s) you are choosing are up for the task that may one day fall on them. Don’t be afraid of hurting anyone’s feelings when making your choices. It’s too important for that.
- Organize Important Documents
Personal, financial and legal documents should be organized and kept in one place. Tell a trusted family member or friend where they are should they need to be accessed.
- Talk About the What Ifs
Have open conversations about what things might look like if things were to either suddenly, or over time, change. Discuss what options there are, what that might look like for all of you as a family, what would be the ideal solution if you could have it, what monies might be needed, who may need access to certain things like financial or legal documents. It’s a lot to think about, and not pleasant to talk about, but it’s harder when there’s been no discussion at all.
- Enlist the Help of Others
If you find starting these types of conversations too difficult on your own or fear emotions escalating, enlist the help of a trusted professional who is well versed in your wishes. It may be your estate attorney, financial advisor, doctor, or clergy member that could help facilitate a family discussion and help keep emotions in balance. We work with clients and families touching the most personal side of their lives every day. We can help here too.
There are no easy answers, I’m not going to pretend there are. Facing one’s mortality or that of someone we hold dear is as real as it gets when it comes to human emotion, but having these conversations in an open and honest manner may be one of the greatest gifts you can give to each other.