4450 Arapahoe Ave.,
Your Family Matters: Communicate Before It’s Too Late
by Beth Brown Ornstein and Ronnie Rosenbaum
Mary, an 80 year old widow experiencing various physical ailments as well as symptoms of age related memory loss, and her two daughters Sarah and Susie, are in the midst of a conflict with the potential for serious consequences. Sarah, who lives nearby, visits Mary almost every day to help her, and is frustrated with and concerned by her mother’s recent cognitive and behavioral changes. Living in a neighboring state, daughter Susie visits her mother three to four times a year. Sarah believes it is time for Mary to move into assisted living, Susie insists that Mary is just confused. Unfortunately, the last few times Sarah and Susie tried to speak with each other, they ended up shouting and hanging up the telephone on each other. Mary insists that she can live at home without any help.
As our families age, we experience life transitions and needs, some of which didn’t even exist for previous generations. Good communication between family members is essential to navigating this often uncharted territory, and in making decisions that may be difficult. Unfortunately, many of us have trouble talking with our family members about the issues that arise.
When this happens, it may be helpful to engage a third party mediator experienced in family dynamics relating to issues of aging. The mediation process is confidential, and the mediator facilitates discussions but does not make decisions for the family members. The mediator will help family members navigate logistical issues, emotional histories and experiences that often impede effective communication, while focusing on achieving their important goals. Most mediators charge an hourly rate. Many are flexible about meeting in their offices or at a family member’s home. The mediator typically prepares a Memorandum of Understanding to record specific agreements reached during the mediation process.
In our example, Sarah obtained a referral for a Mediator from a respected source. As requested by Sarah, the Mediator contacted both Susie and Mary to invite them to participate in the mediation process. Both agreed, and Susie agreed to split the fee with Sarah. Two two-hour mediation sessions were scheduled for the next month when Susie would be in town. They were scheduled in the morning, when Mary is the most energetic. Prior to the first mediation session, the Mediator spoke individually to Sarah, Susie, and Mary about their concerns.
©2013, Beth Brown Ornstein and Ronnie Rosenbaum
Beth Brown Ornstein, J.D., mediates family and civil disputes through the Colorado Mediation Center, LLC.