It may come as a phone call, or more likely these days, a text or email. Your parent has fallen, or gotten into a car accident, or been picked up by the police somewhere, confused. Perhaps the event comes as a surprise out of nowhere, or perhaps it is not altogether unexpected. The family has to jump in to take care of things and resolve this event. But a part of you thinks, this is just the first domino falling? There will be more to come.
Among the myriad of potential first dominos, it’s critically to recognize the event for what it is, because more are coming. And they only get heavier. As far as your parents, siblings, or other loved one’s aging, the dominos that fall along the way can add up to unbelievable pressure. The last one may fall on you with the weight of every domino before it.
Imagining the sequence that may start to happen, the second domino to tip over may be what to do about your loved one’s safety and health. At this stage it might require additional family support, medical interventions, living facilities, or in home care services. At this point, you’ll need to have some difficult conversations. More often than not, offers of additional help are met with excuses or denial by the person in need. It can be very difficult to accept the stage in life when help is required, particularly when someone has been self-sufficient for their whole life. Starting the conversation is one of the biggest hurdles. There are resources and professionals to help you guide these conversations.
The next domino to fall is when you have figure out what kind of decision-making issues have to be handled. Who has the authority to make medical decisions or financial decisions? Are you clear on what your loved one wants?
Next in line may be a tough discussion about what money or assets are available to help pay for current and future needs. Is there a family estate involved? Is there a family business? How many family members are involved? How well do they work together? How is ownership of any assets designated and handled?
Then there may be the broader, more complex talks about transitions within the family. Your role and those of others will change. What happens within the family dynamics? Who bears the most responsibility? Who becomes the center of influence? What is the level of functional communication between you and your family? Are there old unresolved conflicts that are now coming to the surface and interfering with your ability to be functional in the situation and take care of the one in need?
Eventually, sometimes after a long process, the last domino in line may be when your loved one passes away and everything that has led up to this point now comes fully to the surface. From management of the funeral and burial to navigating the emotional stress of the loss of a loved one, the pressure can seem unreal. Some families fall apart during this time, and some grow closer and come together. The questions is, which do you believe will be the case for you?
Where to stop the dominos?
Ideally, these decisions and plan would all be in place before the first event. In reality, about two-thirds of the US population has any of these in order before they die. Recognizing the first domino event is critical. If you are thinking about the need for increased safety and health interventions for your loved one, it’s time to start thinking of the remaining items. When initiating in-home care services, it’s common to be asked if clients have advanced directives, living wills, and surrogate decision makers identified. The advanced directives are most relevant so that emergency personnel know the client’s wishes. Informational packets are provided to help the family follow up themselves on the living wills, estate plans, and the like. Here is the moment to really pay attention to what’s happening; when you are sitting in the living room with your loved one and those topics come to the surface. If you do not have an estate planning or elder law attorney, your in-home care company can be a great resource for referrals. Most will have affiliations in the professional community and can create a warm connection to the most relevant legal firms, financial planners, living facilities, other relevant services. For families with complex estate and business transitions having legal and accounting professionals is typical, however, other professional family enterprise consultants can help the family navigate, as well as possible, through difficult times and put the family in the best possible position to thrive for future generations.