‘ My Sister is a Princess, My Brother is an Ostrich, My Parents Think Like Peter Pan? What Family Conversation?’
Dear Rooney and Bear:
‘I can’t seem to convince anyone in my family that planning is important. My parents are getting older and last month my Dad was in the hospital for almost a week. My sister says she’s really too busy with her own life to worry about theirs. My brother refuses to imagine them getting older and possibly ill. And every time I bring this up with my parents they just laugh and tell me I worry too much! I’m the only child who lives in the same town as my parents and if anything should happen I’ll be the one who has to deal with it!! Any suggestions?’
Rooney, you are pretty thoughtful about things. How important do you think it is for a family to do some long term planning?
ROONEY: I’m with the parents! Fran’s a worry wart!’
What if something happened to me and you and Bear were left with no one to take care of you?
ROONEY: I would obviously survive because that’s what cats do, but when you put it that way I agree that we should have a game plan!
What do you think makes it so hard for families to sit down and have a conversation like this?
BEAR: Well, honestly Mary, who would choose to have a conversation about aging, illness, dementia, dying and possibly diapers if they didn’t have to? Can you imagine that right after a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner Fran launches into a discussion of these things? Doing the dishes right then would sound like a good time!
What if it wasn’t all about the negatives? What if it was an opportunity to talk about the things in your life that really matter – the must haves or hope to haves for quality of life?
BEAR: I would say that never having to go to another owner again would be at the top of my list. Then I’d add seeing my friends across the street, walks without a leash, and chicken soup on my dry food.
ROONEY: A sunny window, regular meals, being outside in the garden. It might also be a chance for Fran and her brother and sister to share some of their thoughts – or maybe worries. I know when they rescued me from my litter I worried about this one brother in particular because he depended on me so much. Maybe they worry about how one parent would do if they lost the other.
BEAR: I think it has to be easier to talk about these things when everyone is healthy and fine. I bet even the ostrich could talk about ways he could be helpful if he wasn’t having to figure it out while his mom was at the vet’s (oops, I mean if she was sick).
ROONEY: Ok. Let’s say Fran convinces the family to have ‘The Talk’ – how do they know everything they’re supposed to cover? What if the Peter Pans really haven’t thought about how they might want to live if one of them died or if they were together but unable to manage without help? What if the princess and her mother hadn’t gotten along for years? How would that go? What if the ostrich got upset during the talk and buried his head even further in the sand?
BEAR: Wow, Rooney, you’re like a heat seeking missile for problems!
ROONEY: Just realistic oh naive one!
Thank you for your thoughts, boys. I’m sure they reflect the concerns that many people have. So let me try to respond.
It isn’t ‘The Talk’. It is about beginning the conversation. It’s a way to help all family members to clarify their thoughts by raising questions.
Most people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about their life and lifestyle when either age or illness or both impose limits on their life. Children don’t like to think about their parents becoming vulnerable and dependent and often feel they are overstepping their bounds by asking them about things like finances, legal issues, and end of life care.
The farther you are from the reality of a health crisis, the less emotional the conversation can be. Conversely, a health crisis is often the stimulus that precedes the conversation.
It is easiest to begin the conversation in generalities and leave specifics to later conversations when the need arises or the timing is more appropriate. For example: ‘Have you done financial planning for long term care’ means that is an area that either does or doesn’t need to be addressed. If no planning has been done, it needs to be addressed immediately. If planning has been done, the specifics may not be necessary at that point.
Holidays, paradoxically, are an excellent time to begin the conversation – especially if all family members are there.
ALL family members should be included in the conversation at some point. It depends on the situation and the family. No matter what they may say, all family members need to feel they are a vital voice in the conversation.
Thanks for your thoughts, boys! I appreciate your feline/canine wisdom and look forward to many more conversations with you both.