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
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.
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.