Dementia has taken our parents from us incrementally and cruelly*. We faced many hard decisions through the journey.
The most notable legacy my parents left behind was adult children that could work together. We had to overcome a host of challenges as my parent’s health was declining. We are like many families, we’ve got baggage from childhood and we problem-solve differently. Our parent’s estate plans named my sister because she was eldest and a lawyer. But my sister lived on the other side of the county, so it wasn’t really the most practical solution. It was one of the first things we had to discuss and addressed. I am the only local adult child, so it only made sense for it to be me. As the youngest, it brought in some expected issues like why would anyone listen to the “baby” of the family–with my parents in the lead. It took time to develop this new relationship.
I’m crazy for process and clear-cut solutions. When we began to have disagreements, I proposed some working rules for working together and that we adopted. They were:
- Spouses are invited to participate, but only direct descendants vote.
- It’s okay to disagree, but not okay to be disagreeable.
- Majority rules on any vote unless it impacts any of us financially. If the outcome of the vote impacts us financially, the vote must be unanimous.
We were blessed to be raised by parents who taught us how to communicate, even when we disagreed. We weren’t always in agreement, and noticed different things at different times. But we needed to work together to help our parents, so we did.
I hear the same issues from many other adult children I have talked with over the years. Most often, I hear how the conflict tore the family apart. I’m thankful that it really brought us closer together. We used an online site for free teleconferencing called TalkShoe. Putting us all on the phone together had a positive impact. We could hear the tone of the voice and ask questions of each other. It also allowed us to listen how our siblings communicated with each other. We eliminated the “he said/she said” misunderstandings.
When my siblings realized how much time a week I was spending to help, they suggested I get compensated. It wasn’t a huge amount of money, but it was recognition that I was spending a good portion of every week visiting, advocating, and assessing mom’s needs. My husband and I actually built the idea of compensation into our trusts because we have experienced it first hand and understand the toll caregiving takes on not just the primary caregiver, but the caregiver’s family.
My siblings were engaged, supportive, and I know many other families blow up on this road. As hard as this journey has been, I recognize how many blessings it has also brought to me, my family, and my siblings. Humbled.
*I don’t know if someone else said this first. Over the last week I wrote it on a post-it note when contemplating our journey. Please let me know so I credit you for this statement which felt very apropos to this post.