Parenting Your Aging Parents

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© Copyright 2012 by Robert Moskowitz

Dear Robert:

I really don’t have anything to complain about. My husband and I have been helping my parents handle their finances and make other adjustments to their lives for the past five years or so. It has been working out very well for the whole family. But there is one problem. Since my father died a year ago, my mother has withdrawn from everyone and doesn’t seem to enjoy anything anymore. We’ve tried bringing her to our kids’ birthday parties and we’ve even offered to send her on a cruise. But she has no appetite for anything. What should we do?

Signed,  Child of Depression

Dear Child of Depression:

What’s unusual about a woman mourning her husband of – what? 30 or 40 years – for a year or even two after his death? Would you prefer that she shrug it off? Your mother is showing the classic symptoms of depression. That’s actually healthy after the death of a spouse, even if it’s not a comfortable experience right now. There are two main things for you and your husband to do, going forward:

First, make sure your mother’s depression isn’t due to some other cause, like an unexpected interaction between medicines and/or over-the-counter drugs she is taking, or the onset of significant mental changes. For this, encourage her to be evaluated by a geriatrician. If she doesn’t already have a relationship with a specialist she trusts, this is a perfect time to start looking for a knowledgeable and compassionate doctor.

Second, keep offering the kind of support and social opportunities you appear to have been offering all along. Even though your mother has had no appetite for life during the past year, her appetite will eventually return. When it does, it will be helpful for you to be holding out a plateful of possibilities.

Dear Robert:

My brothers and I are in the middle of one of the worst fights of our lives over some of the possessions left to us when our parents passed away last month. We’ve always competed with each other, and tried to top each other as much as possible. But I always believed there was plenty of brotherly love underneath it all. Now it seems my older brother and my younger brother are burning their bridges. Can you suggest a fair way to go about dividing up the possessions after a parent’s death? We’re the legal inheritors, but our parents’ will was not specific enough to do this for us. Thanks for any help you can provide.

Signed, Overburdened Over Possessions

Dear Overburdened:

It’s clear that you – at least – still love your brothers. It’s probable that your brothers still love each other and you. But for the moment, they’re expressing their grief and mourning through this competition over material possessions. Once the grief evolves into acceptance and fond memories, the love will rise to the top again.

In the meantime, you obviously have some practical issues to deal with. You don’t say what these possessions are or how much they are worth. Here are some suggestions:

Extremely valuable assets like cash, houses, cars, stocks, bonds, valuable jewelry, and the like must be divided as fairly as possible. If your brothers remain at loggerheads too long, hire a mediator, a retired judge, or a good lawyer to resolve the differences and develop a distribution plan all the brothers can accept.

If there’s cash to be distributed, that’s both the easiest and the best to start with. After the money is divided, you and your brothers can use it to “bid” on other items that more than one of you really wants.

Smaller possessions like costume or inexpensive jewelry, decorative items, and the like (that are not “extremely” valuable, as above), as well as purely emotional items like photos (which can be duplicated), clothing, letters, books, and personal items, should be divided so everyone feels they got at least some of what they wanted. One good way is to take turns choosing one item, like a draft of new talent in basketball or football. Each brother gets a choice, perhaps in order of age, or in reverse order of age. Once everything has been “drafted,” you can “trade” items and groups of items among yourselves.

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To help your aging parents maintain their quality of life, think in terms of becoming like flowing water, which over time can create beautiful formations out of the toughest rocks.

© Copyright 2012 by Robert Moskowitz

Robert Moskowitz is the author of “Parenting Your Aging Parents, How To Protect Their Quality of Life — And Yours!” This 300 page hardcover book has been widely acclaimed as the classic work in the field since 1991. It is available at bookstores, or directly from Key Publications. The Web site is: “http://www.KeyPubs.com/pyapbook.html“. The cost is $21.95 plus $6.95 shipping and handling. If you wish, you can ask Robert Moskowitz your own question for this column by emailing him at: KeyPubs@KeyPubs.com.

 

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