How do you know when it's time to start thinking about who's going to care for your parents or other loved ones? If you're thinking about that question, it's time.
Your parents or in-laws will be the main or central characters in your planning process. You need to first discover what their wishes and ideas are for how they want to live out their last years. All decisions have to involve them and, as much as possible, revolve around and incorporate these wishes and desires.
The safety and well-being of your parents should be the most important factor. Helping them live out their lives within the scope of their wishes for as long as it is safe will be paramount in your plan. Financial factors will dictate the reality and success. Planning ahead of time will help to broaden the possibilities. Waiting for a crisis to happen may eliminate choices and make life more difficult.
Take the time to sit down with your whole family and begin this discussion. If it is geographically impossible to have everyone in one place, technology offers many realms of solutions including conference calls, instant messaging, and video conferences. Begin by encouraging each family member to give this some serious thought, and then bring their ideas together in a brainstorming session. Let your parents speak first, and then give each person the respect of listening to their ideas as well.
Talking about wishes and understanding how each family member feels about them, and what types of responsibilities each person can handle, will help avoid problems in the long run. You must take into account that science and technology will continue to make advances and offer alternatives. These should be incorporated into a plan as life evolves.
Included in the discussion should be whether or not your parents will agree to or are totally opposed to institutions such as a nursing home, board and care, or assisted-living facility should they no longer be able to remain in their own home. Explore whether there are funds to cover these expenses. Can they remain at home, and who will care for them? Additionally, end-of-life issues need to be discussed openly.
Understanding that as adults it is okay to agree to disagree and still be friends is an essential factor in dealing with these decisions. For example, your mother wants to be cremated and her ashes scattered at sea. She wants no funeral and no ceremonies. Your sister thinks it's a perfect idea, but your brother is shocked because this goes against all of your family's spiritual beliefs and upbringing. He thinks she has to be buried, and there must be a viewing and a funeral, with a procession to the gravesite, and so on. You're able to accept the idea of cremation and scattering of her ashes, but you know that you will need to have some sort of closure ceremony. Where do you go from here?
Coming to a meeting of the minds may be easier said than done. Accepting your mother's wishes and agreeing to disagree with her and your siblings may not be an easy task. But understanding you may never all agree to all aspects of these issues, and accepting the fact that you can disagree and move on, is important.
Make informed decisions. Learn where to find information. Learn about the alternatives you have in caring for your aging parents and in-laws, how to get your family involved, how to manage being sandwiched between caring for your children and your parents, and how to avoid burnout.
You will also need to learn to take care of yourself so you can continue to take care of those who need you. Know you will have given this your best effort and you will have made a difference in your loved ones lives.