How can I help my brother-in-law accept the decline in his parents' health?

3 answers | Last updated: Nov 15, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My husband's brother is in denial about the decline of their parents' health. He is the eldest, single, with power of attorney and is the executor of their wills and the primary trustee. But he is very unwilling to ask questions of doctors, get familiar with their finances--all the things that we know we need to do. My husband and I are willing and ready to help but he says things like "if they want help, they will ask" and doesn't take any initiative. I am at my wit's end other than taking action myself and when I do he thinks I am interfering. What is a good book I could give him so he can begin to understand this is a natural part of life and he needs to accept it in order to help them?

Expert Answers

As Founder and Director of Circles of Care, Ann Cason provides caregiving, consulting, and training services to individuals and public and private organizations involved in eldercare. She is the author of Circles of Care: How to Set Up Quality Home Care for Our Elders.

Caring for your Parents in Their Senior Years a Guide for Grownup Children  by William Molloy, MD might help your brother. 

However, I would not reccommend that you give him a book.  Although it is difficult for you, his approach may be correct. So many elders do not want to reveal their issues of health or finance.  Many want to remain independent.  Many fear that their children will take their money and put them into institutional settings. It many not be a rational fear, but more common than you think.

If you want to help, I would reccommend books to help you and your husband work with your own fears of death or any unrecognized desire to take control. One Year to Live by Stephen Levine might be of help.  Another is Making Friends with Death by Judy Lief.

You may be able to influence your brother-in law by working with your own process.    You may be able to share with him the results of your study and contemplation.   You have to be very patient with  friends and loved ones who have grown up in our death fearing society.    Go slowly, but keep your goal in sight.



Community Answers

A fellow caregiver answered...

Thank you for those thoughts! (I am the original poster.) That is an interesting perspective that I am going to spend some time considering. I recognize that my brother-in-law is frightened of losing his parents, and it is especially hard for him because he is single with no family of his own. I will take your advice and buy the book for myself rather than for my brother-in-law, then see if I can use what I learn to help him--gently.

The reality is that their parents have to have some help, as they can't handle everything on their own due to health problems, and they have actually said as much, but memory problems and a desire to not be a burden have resulted in them not asking for specific assistance. Having lost both of my own parents, I've been through this before, and that's probably why I have an easier time accepting the inevitable and seeing what needs to be done to make it comfortable for them. But your point is well taken that despite the urgency of their needs, I can't change another person's emotional circumstances.

I'll be grateful for more feedback on this issue, especially from anyone who has successfully dealt with something like this.

Ann cason answered...

Thank you for writing back.  I would also like to suggest that you read my book, Circles of Care.  It has suggestions of many ways to help older people in ways that do not get into medical or financial areas.