JANUARY 23, 2015, Los Angeles CA
I have just returned from a long ride with friends, including a newcomer to our group. This day has given me new feelings about social work and about the need for talk, help and healing as our parents, and we (soon enough) head towards our last breaths.
Nearing the end of our ride, on a wonderful descent, I saw a Porsche at the side of the road, with a man standing next to a cyclist, who was huddled up next to his bike. My friends had all (except for the new guy, let’s say he’s called John) whizzed past this scene. I hopped off the bike, and was in action making sure he was okay, learning that he had not been hit by a car, but had taken a tumble, luckily not involving his head, according to Porsche guy. I talked to the fallen cyclist’s wife on his cell phone and told her help was there. I talked to the poor guy, who was very shaken and upset, but not worryingly so, and injured with some road rash and likely bruising, but nothing broken. I called for an Uber on my phone and sent a screen shot of the info and phone number of the driver to the wife. Porsche guy left when all was in hand and John and I stayed with our guy, talking to the wife, until the very kind Uber driver arrived. Off they went and the wife sms’d me her thanks for good Samaritans.
Thoughts: First, I could not imagine any other way of being. The idea of my ride being interrupted, of me foregoing a last climb due to the time of our stop – totally not something that I thought of. As we rode off I said to John, “this is why I’m in social work school,” and proceeded to tell him more about my hope to work with older families and people like us (he’s 55) as we deal with them and our siblings in their and our later years.
John then began to tell me his story, opening with the fact that he saw a therapist three years ago after his mother died, which was a year after his father’s death. For both parents, the deaths were quick. But what bothered him the most about the whole thing was how it played out with his brother. John is from L.A. and that is where his parents were when they died. His brother had moved east years ago and rarely visited or weighed in on the issues of looking after the well-being of his parents – and this is totally understandable, right? Especially when the parents in question self-report that they are well and fine, and older, competent brother is nearby.
Once the father had died and the mother told the two sons (and brother’s wife – John is not married) who was going to get what, suddenly brother and wife were very interested and called and visited regularly. This stung John, even though he did not care about the money specifically. Then, when the mother died, as soon as brother and wife arrived at the home of their deceased mother, wife immediately asked to see the will.
Golly that all stings. I can see it from both sides, in a way.
As we rode on, John continued describing further complications between him and his brother. First, John hates the wife. Since their marriage 15 years ago he has not sought out visiting his brother. Second, it turns out that John was always the over-achiever, that the younger brother always heard from mother and father, “why can’t you be more like your older brother?” Just imagine how it feels, living a life where the feeling of letting your parents down weighs on you, where you see nothing but examples of success from your older brother as you struggle and then to face your mother’s death, finding older brother as the executor, the one who has it all in hand, who is, in essence, going to control how this thing works, and who is probably pissed off that you’re getting a “fair share” of the estate of the parents.
All I can say is this: I hope that some day someone like John will say, perhaps after his mother says “here is what y’all are getting” and before she dies, “hey I know this lady who talks to families like this…maybe it’s worth talking to her so at least we can all have aired our feelings before we have to deal with the really hard stuff of death and estates.”
The relationships of siblings are sacred but they often shift in adulthood in unexpected ways, especially when spouses appear, weighing in aloud or through whispers to their spouse, when issues of inheritance start to be discussed, or inferred, leading everyone to conjure up their own version of “equitable.”
Whether this is a super practical mediation approach or an existential psychology one, I don’t know. Maybe talking to one individual, the one who wants to change, is the key, maybe that person will have the tools and strengths to voice his opinions to his siblings or parents or both? Maybe I will apply a practical and therapeutic approach to the older parents?
Who knows!! Not knowing is part of the fun!