Grannie’s Bystander Problem

I played a central role in managing my grandmother’s care over the last two years. Here are some thoughts that might help you and your siblings.

It’s better for everyone to have ‘the conversation’ before it is required. Most families lack plans, or skills, to deal with their elders’ passing.

A – each elderly person needs a champion. By champion, I mean a leader, not an owner, of a situation.

B – the champion’s role is to co-ordinate care by the family, and outsiders. In our family, reflecting different skills, we split the financial/admin support from the emotional/medical support. This split works very well.

C – be careful not to ‘own’ an elder. Use caution with commitments that might impair your ability to meet the needs of your spouse and kids. Don’t become a casualty, emotionally or financially.

The highest achieving, or most emotionally giving, can be tempted to move the elder into their house. This can be great, or a disaster, we’ve seen both outcomes in our family. Often from the same situation, but different perspectives (grand kids vs spouse).

D – be open with what needs to be done and ask everyone to contribute a little bit.

E – geographical spread costs time and money. My family lives all over the world, there is a large, mostly hidden, potential liability due to our spread.

Because the problems of the elderly (health, loneliness, death) are difficult to resolve, many people don’t bother to try. That’s a shame because you’ll never regret a small kindness but you might regret not making any effort at all.

A friend shared with me that, in death, she didn’t have anything to offer her parent. The earlier relationship had been unhealthy and she’d decided to end the cycle of pain in her family. She was getting push back from her family to engage but couldn’t bring herself to do something that lacked authenticity.

It reminded me that sometimes our role might be to take the blame as others deal with their grief. Being a father gives me many opportunities to chose what I think is best, rather than expedient.

As a parent, I hope to teach my kids to improve a little bit on the legacy I pass to them.

With powerful emotions, write down how you’re feeling. Time will reshape your memory and you may want a record of why you made your decisions, especially if you have a habit of regret.

The following were central lessons:

As the end nears, small kindnesses have large impacts.

Everyone contributes based on their own capacity.

Don’t keep score.

Your community likely has resources to help you manage. Ask for help.

Our actions train our families to manage our own decline.

Preserve dignity as long as possible.