Aging parent. Family meeting. Scary stuff. I did not sleep the night before. Capabilities and independence were on the agenda; we were not at the point of caretaking or having to think about end of life issues.
A big family offers a lot of assistance when needed and also comes with a variety of thoughts, emotions and opinions. Lots of love and wanting what is best circulated in preliminary e-mails, but so did differences in what this looked like.
We were all novices at this. We wanted mom’s thoughts and input, but did she need to be at the meeting? A last minute decision on this point, and poor phone service, led to the slightly comical situation of one sibling going to intercept another from going to the wrong location.
Online research of the topics we would be discussing and “dos and don’ts” for such a meeting proved helpful. Anecdotal information of what others had seen and gone through was valuable. And although we tried to stay focused, we took a good half-hour to get through the first three items on a checklist of abilities.
Easier topics and situations were discussed first. As we got into more emotionally difficult issues, we were able to first look at the easier aspects of these tougher questions. As the meeting continued, we got to the point of needing to address the most difficult concern.
The night before the meeting, I had an unplanned “role play” with my sister-in-law which let me see what a worst-case scenario could look like. I later apologized and thanked her for helping me recognize what could happen if I let my emotions get away from me. Yet my sarcasm during a tense moment at the meeting still came out: “Well, let’s wrap her up in bubble wrap and spoon feed her,” was not helpful.
Outside of a few unhelpful comments, we made it through the toughest topic. Three hours after we began, there were no winners or losers, no one was convinced by argument on the bigger issues. Majority opinion and mom’s wishes took precedence. There was the realization (as with all things in life) that circumstances could change at any time – or that things may stay the same for months or years.
We plan to be more organized on checking in with her. We plan to suggest more supportive and helpful services, rather than going on the belief that, “She won’t want that.” We plan to continue to encourage her to do the things needed in order to remain healthy, independent and capable. And we plan to attempt to do more things with her, rather than simply doing things for her.
For ourselves, I think we know that decline is inevitable, but it may have been one of the first times we acknowledged it and said it out loud to one another. For me, this was one of the more difficult, yet perhaps beneficial, aspects of the meeting.
Reggie E., MSW, CEAP, joined Empathia in 2005 as an EAP Counselor. Reggie has a master’s degree in Social Work as well as bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and the Comparative Study of Religion from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Prior to a career change to social work, he worked in a variety of fields, including banking, trucking and metal fabrication.