Recently, my family had the extraordinarily grueling challenge of helping our parents come to the realization that they could no longer live on their own. While in rehab following my father’s brain surgery, he admitted to my sisters and me he could no longer care for our mother. And while our mother thought she was fully capable of caring for herself and him, the reality was much different. Any time my sister or I even mentioned our parents leaving their home, our mother became very angry…and I do not mean slightly, I mean very.
My father would be in rehab for about six weeks at least. My mother also required surgery quickly. She had many health issues as well and the surgery had already been postponed because of our father’s fall and subsequent brain surgery.
I live six hours away. One sister had her own issues with disability and thus, while helping in her own way, could not help with significant daily tasks. My other sister, upon whom most all of the burden had, and would continue to fall, had two children in high school, did not drive and had a husband who worked out of town most days. My husband and I had flown in and taken several days off to give my sister a break from all the stress of being with my father in rehab and shuttling our mother on the 60-minute one-way drive (without Dallas traffic) to our Dad’s rehab facility each day. Following several hours of conversation with my sister and our husbands, we realized we were somehow going to have to convince our mother she could no longer live alone with just our father. Our mother was smart and stubborn; and she had three daughters much like her —so how could we do that? Then I had an epiphany, collaboratively.
One day on the way out the door on the way to take Mom to see Dad in rehab, I grabbed a roll of Christmas wrapping paper and some tape (it was the end of December after all.) On the way to rehab, I texted my sisters and asked them to come visit that day as I had an idea. They agreed and met us at the rehab.
Once everyone assembled, I shut my dad’s rehab room door and taped the wrapping paper, decorated side to the door, up on the door so that the white side faced out. The wrapping paper ran the entire length of the door. I borrowed a marker from the nurses, and we began our dialogue of our Interests, Goals, and Concerns. (Even as I write this I tear up because it was such a beautiful experience to see our family come together in genuine concern and love for my parents.) I led the session much like I do for so many of our collaborative meetings. My training just kicked in. When someone tried to offer a solution, I led them back to where we were in the process.
I will not mislead you. On two separate occasions during that three-hour family meeting, my mother got a little anxious. But her anxiety was very short lived as I directed her back to our interests and goals and concerns. By the end of the conversation my mother said: “Well, obviously, we can’t keep living at our house.” They were her words. She said them. We did not force them out of her. It was a realization that she came to on her own as the result of our collaborative family exercise. I know she did not want to say those words, but she knew the truth of them. She agreed that they would move into an independent living facility. We never really had to get to the brainstorming phase nor the negotiation phase. Everything else just fell into place.
My parents are now in an incredible facility in Dallas. They love it. Both have recovered nicely from their surgeries. They have made new friends in their retirement community. The facility meets all of their needs while making my sisters and I feel good knowing that if something happens, assistance will be there within minutes to help them.
With our aging Baby Boomer population, more and more of us are dealing with this issue daily. For some of us, gone are the days discussing baby formula and the agony of teenage hormone spikes, nowadays, our dinner parties are full of discussions about which retirement communities are better for our parents than others. I had not previously thought of using the collaborative training I have in other aspects of my life. And truthfully, grabbing that roll of wrapping paper that day was just an afterthought. In thinking that through though, we should be using those collaborative tools and skills in other areas of our lives and other practices of law—they work.