Who is in Charge Here?

07/05/2011 - 1:02pm
Who is in Charge Here?

Several months ago I had a visit with an aging mother (85 YO, I will call her Rita) and two of her five children.  We had a robust, full discussion of her life and desires for when she passed.  At one point we excused the two daughters so I could speak frankly to her.  What followed was an interesting dialogue that has happened many times before.  Rita trusted her daughter's intentions, but she did not trust them fully.  She revealed that she desperately wanted to believe that they had her best interest at heart, but she wasn't quite sure that she had ultimate confidence in them.  Because they were always available and yielding to her requests, she felt she could trust them, but wanted to maintain control over herself and belongings.

I assured her that her feelings were common.  I told her that my loyalty was to her, and that anything we talked about was not repeated to her daughters.   I promised her that I would do everything within my ability to "insure" that she was taken care of in the manner she wanted.  I also let her know that because of the love that I sensed from her daughters, she should let me tell them of her concerns in her presence.  She agreed.

So, we called the daughters back into the room.  I started by telling the group that from my observation point, there was an incredible amount of respect and love among them.  Rita loved her children so much, that she was willing to go to the office and visit with a stranger about her legal matters.  Rita had always put the needs of her children ahead of her own.  Rita was very appreciative of what her daughters did for her, she just had a difficult time expressing it.

I then talked to them about the love I saw from the daughters.  I mentioned that they cared for Rita so much that they wanted her to be provided for as long as she might live.  My observation was that the girls had, for years, given uncounted hours and time to their mother.  The girls had made decisions for Rita that resulted in a windfall to her.  They demonstrated the same sacrificial spirit to their mother, that Rita showed them.

There were many tears as each came to know the depth of the love that they had for the other.  They all became aware that the other's best interest was always the most important.

Then - and only then - did we begin talking about solutions for Rita's care and personal planning.

Rita had shared with me that the major reason that she had no planning in place was because she did not want to give up control if she was able to manage her financial affairs.  I shared this with the group and suggested several options with planning.  Rita chose the best path for her, while preserving her dignity and autonomy.

This experience is not uncommon.  Children want to make sure a parent is provided for, but they sometimes overlook the loss of dignity when one cedes control.  It is natural for humans to want to control what is theirs.  It is in our DNA.  Open communication, perhaps sometimes for the first time in decades, will usually resolve the issue.  Communicating openly will empower individuals, and there loved ones to control that which is necessary.