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Understanding Your Health Choices: Conversations Before the Crisis

When Siblings Disagree-Elizabeth's Family continued...

"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 them?"

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 point?"

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.

How can Elizabeth direct this conversation constructively? Because she has thought about this and prepared by talking with friends and doing some reading, she might suggest a plan.

Elizabeth could say something like this: "I think it's important that we try to work together and figure out what each of us can do, and how to think about this, so we don't have a family disaster. If they both continue to decline and we do nothing, it will be terrible for us, as well as for them. I could try to talk with the doctor to see if he has any insights on their medical situation, and check on their insurance. What can you two do? Is there anyone else who can help us? Whom do we know with experience?"

Nothing has been decided, but each sibling now realizes that things are changing, and that they lack critical information. Progress from this point may be bumpy, but cooperation is still possible. At least Elizabeth has raised the issue, and is making clear that she is not going to do all the practical and emotional work for the family.

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WebMD Medical Reference from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization

Reviewed on September 03, 2005

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