A part of the Making Peace Happen series of stories by ACR Members featured in the ACR Update.
I'm an elder mediator. I recently worked with a family of 3 sisters who had grown so suspicious and distrusting of each other, they were barely speaking. Their issues centered on the care of their father, who had dementia and had difficult behavior.
They had agreed to let a licensed fiduciary handle the money for Dad's care, as they did not wish to get in fights about money, on top of everything else. Dad had enough to pay for all he needed. The dispute involved beliefs about what one sister was doing in relation to Dad, and the objections of the others as to what they thought the effect of her actions were. They believed that she was telling the doctors what to do for her Dad with regard to medication. They thought she was "running the show" because she was in closer proximity to Dad than the other two sisters. Dad had previously been hostile and accusatory to this local sister and despite the fact that he was very demented, the distantly located two sisters thought his accusations were true. They were not able to see that his behavior was driven by his disease. The local sister was hurt and confused as to why her siblings would treat her that way.
The fiduciary was worried that the 3 sisters would destroy their own relationships with each other and she referred the matter for family mediation.
We managed the mediation entirely by phone, as the distance prevented the 3 from coming together. For part of the sessions, the fiduciary participated. For one of the sessions, a nurse-care manager also participated. (This could also have been done via Skype). Their input was very useful. We conducted 3 sessions to establish their agreements and one to follow up to see how well all were able to adhere to their agreements.
Each session was two hours. During each, specific agreements were reached about Dad, about communication with each other and about the "rules of engagement". All signed off on them when they received them via email. We reviewed how it all worked in the next session. It was amazing how the hostility melted as we progressed. With the mediator's help, all of the sisters were able to listen to one another and ask each other questions. Early in this process, Dad had had a fall and hit his head. Oddly, it seemed to be a sort of "reset" of his mental status. He seemed to forget that he had accused his local daughter of all manner of horrible things (all apparently untrue) and wanted to know when she was coming over for dinner. By the last session, all 3 sisters were in good terms, working in cooperation and texting one another daily as to Dad's status and progress as he returned from the hospital to home care. Their relationships were restored to enable them to plan for and oversee the very best care for their dad.
About two months later, I learned from the care manager that the Dad had died. I felt a great sense of satisfaction that these sisters had restored the peace among them, shared the last tasks for dad's quality of life together, and still had good relationships with each other to rely on after his passing.
Rosenblatt, of San Rafael, California, is a registered nurse, attorney and
elder mediator at AgingParents.com. She is the author of The
Boomer's Guide to Aging Parents and the Aging Parents blog at