Walking the labyrinth is a favorite contemplative activity at Dayspring Retreat Center. As I walked it last weekend I thought of the differing paths on which family members may find themselves, faced with an emergency or crisis.
Say, for instance, Mom falls and breaks her hip. She and her adult children, Jim and Jeanette, agree she can’t live alone for now. In the short run she’ll need skilled nursing care and physical therapy. But what about long-term?
Mom feels as if she’s walking along the edge of a precipice, clinging to every promising root or limb as she inches her way along the narrow path. She’s losing control of her own life. She feels unsafe and terrified that a wrong step will end her independence forever.
Jim is lost in a maze full of dead ends. Each path seems untrustworthy. He doesn’t know where to start or where to turn. There must be a way out, but he can’t yet see it. What does Mom need? What does Jeanette expect of him? Should he take Mom in? How would that change his life? How would his wife feel?
Jeanette is walking a labyrinth. Like a maze it turns and twists, but there are no dead ends. If you stay on the path, you arrive – sometimes with unexpected suddenness – at the center where wisdom dwells. Then you turn around and walk back the way you came. After many bends you emerge into the open. Jeanette seeks a path to follow, one step at a time.
A skilled mediator can recognize and name where each family member is and respond to that need. Building trust is key. She/he will guide the family in deep listening and gentle speaking. Mom needs reassurance that her children love her and will make no long-term decision without her consent. Jim needs to hear that, unlike a maze, there are many exits (possibilities) for Mom. Jeanette needs to see a process that will lead to a wise decision.
Once trust is deepened and fear reduced, the mediator will lead participants to create a plan. They may divide the tasks for gathering information, resources, and expenses: Say Jim researches the costs of in-home care and making the home wheelchair accessible. Jeanette will check out assisted living residences and fees. Mom will clarify her financial capacity. The mediator may bring in a social worker, a financial planner, or a lawyer, depending on the need.
Now they have a process. They’ll meet next week to share information. Though they haven’t yet arrived at the end, they’re on a path that will lead, one step at a time, to a decision everyone can embrace.