I have no law degree. I have training in social psychology, but my Liberal Arts degree is Religious Studies. So the advice I am about to offer is strictly based on my observations here at Horizons, and on common sense.
The very saddest thing to see around here is, surprisingly, not the people who sleep most of the time, even at meals. It isn’t the men and women with dementia or Alzheimers. Worst to see are the adults who, after a lifetime of raising their children and always doing the best they can, are bullied, pressured and threatened into signing over their assets to one or another of those children. One such woman is close to me — her room next to mine — and the things I have heard make me spitting angry and break my heart.
She is a lovely woman, always friendly, and on the edge of competence in choosing for herself what the rest of her life will be like. Two of her children are making a full-on war of threatening her; if she won’t sign the house over to them, they are going to put her away, lock her up and leave her. Another daughter and son-in-law are defending her against this whole-pressure push, but they both think they will be better people to take care of her property,9 while she stays here where she will have care and company and safety. She, herself, believes that any of these children can lock her away, and she feels powerless to speak for herself.
I was once in a similar position. Near the height of my cardiac problems, I fell on my knee, took morphine which had been prescribed for chest pain, and took too much. I was placed in the care of this same company, before they built this beautiful facility. Mom had been the one stuck with all of my problems. She talked to the management, and to a lot of people, and decided that assisted living would be the best thing for me. I don’t believe this was a malicious or mean decision — Mom wanted what was best for me, and I was a mess, so this seemed an agreeable arrangement.
In my confusion and paranoia, I felt that Mom was locking me away, and I felt powerless to do anything about it. After five days in that nursing home, I knew I could not stand to live that way the rest of my life, but I believed I had no say in the matter. I went to the adminstrator, Michael, (a wicked nice guy, and cute!) and asked if anyone could make that decision for me. He told me no, as long as a judge believed I still had my faculties, I couldn’t be forced into anything.
Nevertheless, I could not continue the way I had, helplessly depending on Mom to manage my life. She had put up with years of that, and I knew that was behind her suggestion of assisted living. I understood, as I never had, that the change had to come from me. If I wanted to continue living alone, in my apartment, I needed to get off my ass and take responsibility for myself. When I arrived back at my apartment, I paid some bills and then took my heart in my hand and went to the hardware store, where I had worked so happily in the 90s, and asked John, the owner, if he could put me to work part- time.
John was wonderful — he said he’d be thrilled to have me back at the store. I explained that I might need to take some time off for medical reasons, and he assured me that whatever I needed, I would always have a job waiting. Eight years later, this is still the case. I am so lucky. Getting my job back was the first step in my long lesson in self-responsibility — that lesson continues today. From that point to this, I have striven, with more or less luck, to take charge and see that I got what I needed, and did what I needed, to live on my own.
Long story. Back to the situation my friend is struggling with now.
I don’t know how that situation will resolve itself. I believe she understands that a probate judge will need to decide if she is competent to care for herself, and she has questions about her own abilities. So who can she trust? Which of her children really wants what’s best for her?
Now, for my little chunk of advice: anyone, including each of you, yourselves, is best served by confronting and completing these decisions long before that question of competence arises. Do you have a living will? Do your loved ones? Through a living will, a person may select and identify who they want to make decisions for them, if they become unable to do so for themselves. In the same document, someone can clearly state any wishes they have for quality of life, long term hospitalization, and whether they want to be kept alive by machine, if that situation arises. Here in Maine, a living will is a five- or six- section document, and the person may choose which desires they want ensured in the event of loss of ability to make decisions for themselves. This document may be written, notarized, and distributed to doctors, family members, and others trusted or untrustworthy in the individual’s life. An hour completing a living will can save years of misery and arguments; and when the individual in question loses that ability to care for her- or himself, he or she can rest assured that her wishes are legally recorded, so no one can make decisions for her besides the person or people she chose.
This long post might have been written in just a few words — make sure that your wishes are known, and avoid being someone who becomes a financial and emotional football. Complete a living will. Suggest the same to those people you love. The alternative can only tear a family apart.