Understanding Your Health Choices: Conversations Before the Crisis
When Siblings Disagree-Elizabeth's Family
Elizabeth's parents, now in their mid-70's, are reluctant to talk about the
end of life. She has tried to engage them more than once, using her own plans
as an example, but is making no progress. A keen observer, Elizabeth is aware
that through her parents are living independently and doing well, change has
begun. They tire easily, have increasing difficulty with stairs, and her mother
seems to be acting strangely in social settings.
Elizabeth and her brother and sister do not live in the same area, each has
problems and difficulties, and they are not close. Elizabeth knows that there
will be conflicts over caring for the parents, making decisions, and about
finances. With some dread, she decides that it's better to talk about the
future than pretend it's not coming. She arranges a three way phone call.
"I've asked you to be on the phone with me because I think we need to
start getting ready for big changes with Mom and Dad. They are starting to have
trouble managing. Mother seems confused, and Dad is just not himself anymore.
They feel insulted if I offer my help, they don't want anyone else around the
house, and I'm going to be traveling more this year. So I really need your
advice and your help."
"Do they need to move?" asks Elizabeth's brother. "Is there a
nursing home or someplace they can go? Do they have insurance? How much is the
house worth? Have you talked to the doctor? Exactly what is wrong with
Elizabeth's sister has her own agenda. "I think you need to plan to be
home with them, not start traveling more. I can't help out, and they've always
liked you best anyway. Did they ever finish their wills? Mother promised me
that the house would never be sold. Why didn't you call us before things got to
This family has work to do to avoid major conflicts over the next few years.
The siblings do not have a good base of information about the affairs and
attitudes of their parents, each is making assumptions about what the others
should do, and all are preoccupied with their own problems.