Sunday, November 15, 2009

Family dynamics

My immediate family when I was growing up was pretty small. My father's family is quite large (there are 10 kids, 9 of whom have kids and most of the kids have kids.. and so one) but we didn't see them very often. In fact, he has 5 sisters that I've never met and would be hard pressed to name. My mom has 3 brothers - one 2 years younger then her and the two others that came along 20 and 22 years later. We spent every holiday with my maternal grandparents and their 2 youngest sons (who are only 8 and 10 years older then I am)

My grandfather died in 1992. Apparently my grandfather was either the glue that held the family together or everyone was scared of him and didn't want to speak their minds. I think it's probably a little bit of both.

Everyone kept up appearances for a little while after he died, but slowly the family started to drift apart. I moved to the East Coast in 1998 so distance became a factor. The first to pull away was my oldest uncle. He and my mom had never been close. Then the next brother in line decided to be a great big ole drama queen (yes there are 3 of us who are gay) and have a hissy fit over nothing one day. It's been more then 5 years since he has spoken to either my mother or me. The youngest brother just keeps trucking along, not very close to anyone, but still on speaking terms with them.

The issue now is my Grandmother. Everyone is still close to her, as long as we ensure that plans to see her don't overlap with someone else's. My mother and father have started spending Christmas alone, and my Grandmother spends her holidays with the 3 boys, their kids and her local great-grandchildren.

My Grandma will be 87 next week. She still lives by her self in the family's home. She spends every summer (and has for the past 42 years) at a trailer park "camping". She's never driven in her life. And now my mom thinks that she may be starting to show signs of dementia.

Being so far away, I have only seen my Grandmother for 1 day a year for the past 7 years. We do however talk on the phone every week, but I don't know if a 20 minute phone call is enough time to get a read on someone's mental state. It's nothing as obvious as she doesn't recognize my mother, but little things like forgetting dates or repeating stories. Now if that were all that was required for a dementia diagnosis I would have been labeled with it years ago!

As the grandchild, even though I'm almost 40, I feel that I don't have enough "standing" in the family to step in and do something. My mom seems too emotionally close to the situation. She seems angry at my grandmother when little things happen as opposed to seeing it as a possible disease. Which surprised me at first. My mom has volunteered at a nursing home for the past 20 years. She has worked with people in all stages of dementia and Alzheimer's. But I guess when it's your own family your react a lot differently.

Being the grandchild also removes me somewhat from the situation. I love my grandmother dearly, but I can see things a lot clearer. I'm thinking about things like power of attorney, living wills, finding out what my grandmother wants while she can still be in control. But I don't know what to do. I can try and talk to my mother, but she's just going to get shirty about the whole thing and won't want to take charge and is too wishy-washy to be in charge of much. I could call my youngest uncle, the only one that I still speak to on occasion.... but what do I say? Or.... do I just call my grandmother?

Now I'm not going to call her and say "Hey Grandma, Mom things your getting a bit dottie, have you picked out any nursing homes or do you have a DNR order?" Cause really? That's just wrong. I would try to get some conversation starters in there to give me a segue to the conversation. Maybe telling her that Hilary and I just went to a lawyer and got our living wills done, by the way grandma, do you have one?

Or I could just put on my big girl panties and just ask her who in the family has power of attorney for her.

Have you had to deal with this type of thing? Any insight you can share would be greatly appreciated! Being an only child I already know that all of this is going to fall to me as my parents get older. Hilary's family is much more civilized about these things. They all know who has power of attorney for whom, what everyone's wishes are and where the wills are kept.

Phew... that was a lot. Thanks for letting me get it all out. Sometimes putting it on paper (or pixels on a screen) can really help point out the problems, even if it doesn't offer a magical solution.
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