The middle-aged woman rolled her eyes and abruptly turned away from her younger brother so she wouldn’t have to see him caress their frail elderly mother. As usual, he had popped in with an armload of expensive gifts for his holiday appearance. Moments before, she had tried to talk privately with him in the kitchen. She had pleaded with him to help her care for their mother who is in the early stages of dementia. She wasn’t surprised when he started reciting his usual list of excuses.
She had heard them all before. He lives over a hundred miles away. He is self-employed and can’t afford to be away from work. He has two teenagers to support and money is tight. He is just not emotionally equipped to handle watching their mother decline.
Seeing him hug their mother made her furious, knowing that he would disappear again and leave the yeoman’s work to her. Warm tears began to splash down her face and onto her Christmas sweater. What about her? Did he ever consider how much energy, time and money she had spent caring for their mother? To her, he was the same spoiled, manipulative person he’d always been.
Keith Branson, founder of Age to Age Ministry and a conflict resolution specialist, knows that the holidays often bring unresolved family issues to a climax. Old clashes and hurts are likely to resurface as family members interact, especially if there is disagreement about caring for an aging parent.
Getting siblings to agree on a plan of action may seem impossible, but Mr. Branson suggests that eldercare mediation offers the best hope in highly-charged situations. A skillful mediator who is familiar with eldercare issues can actually help diffuse the emotional tension and help everyone to see things more objectively. He can reframe the conversation with less-antagonistic rhetoric than occurs when angry or hurt family members tackle the conversation alone.
Professional mediation or not, Mr. Branson suggests that helpful conversation always requires respectful listening from all parties. It’s important to hear what someone is saying without judging or condemning them. The brother needs his sister to hear his fears and concerns without being judged as thoughtless or spoiled. At the same time, the middle-aged woman needs her brother to understand why she feels she is unfairly shouldering the burden of caregiving.
Unless the aging mother is mentally unable to share in decision-making, she should also be invited into the conversation at an appropriate time. Most importantly, a skilled eldercare mediator can lead a family through the emotional landmines that block their way and help them keep their focus on the best possible care for their aging parent.
Though working with a mediator to get resolution can be painful at times, Mr. Branson emphasizes that the reward for pressing through the difficulties can be extremely satisfying. He points out that resolution does not mean that you will never feel negative emotions again. It means that you choose to communicate your feelings in a positive way and move forward.
With the New Year comes new beginnings; it’s a perfect time to reflect on family relationships and responsibilities. Perhaps this is the year that you gather your siblings and seek the help of an eldercare mediator to help your family navigate the uneven landscape of caring for aging parents.
For additional information on Keith Branson and Age to Age Ministry, call (615) 591-9914.
Ms. Buchanan, a member of FUMC Rockwall, Texas, is the author of Aging Faithfully: 28 Days of Prayer. Reach her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.