Aging Well: Eldercare mediation can help stressed-out families

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.

Missy Buchanan

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: missy@missybuchanan.com.

Missy Buchanan, UMR Columnist

Missy Buchanan is a sought-after speaker on topics of older adult ministry and spiritual creativity, she brings passion and humor to many events for churches, organizations, and women’s groups. She has appeared on Good Morning America with co-host Robin Roberts and is the author of books including Living with Purpose in a Worn-Out Body: Spiritual Encouragement for Older Adults, Talking with God in Old Age: Meditations and Psalms, and Don’t Write My Obituary Just Yet: Inspiring Faith Stories for Older Adults. She has written for many publications including Presbyterians Today, Mature Years, Christian Association Serving Adults Ministries, Entrepreneur, and The Dallas Morning News.

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  1. My wife was diagnosed almost 5 years ago with Alzheimer's. She had been showing symptoms for a long time before our oldest son encouraged a Drs visit. I prayed for a tangible cause for her problem–those are treatable–Alzheimer's is not. My wife has been in a nursing facility for nearly 6 longs months. I see her only 3 times a week–most weeks. Our sons see her fairly frequently except for the one who lives all the way across the country. Our "Mediator" was-is-forever shall be Father/Son/Holy Spirit. Yes it is tough. This will be the first (among many "firsts") Christmas without my wife at home. Our son and his family who live far away from us will be absolutely taken aback when they see Mom/G'ma during their time here at Christmas. Father/Son/Holy Spirit will be on tap to "Mediate" us through these coming sad/hard/necessary days ahead. Seems to me that "professional" help most times leave out Father/Son/Holy Spirit. I pray that the sister and brother in Ms.Buchanan's article have a personal relationship with the Father/Son/Holy Spirit. Their mediator will have a much more fruitful session with them if he as well as they know the Savior whose Birth we are celebrating this Christmas.

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