A Talk with My Parents Around Our Holiday Table
A Sibling's Story: Thanksgiving, 2012
by Alex Nadworny
It was the first Thanksgiving in a long time where it was just the five of us: Ben, me, Dad, Mom and James, around the table. We gave thanks for all we had and the feasting began. We ate and talked and laughed until we were as stuffed as Thanksgiving turkeys ourselves. We settled into post-dinner conversation and everyone was relaxed and in a great mood, when I heard myself say to my parents, “Where will James live when you are gone?”
Immediately Ben replied, “He’s living with me.”
To which I said, “No, with me.”
To which my Dad said, “No way he’s living with either of you!”
This question had been on my mind. I loved James and would do anything for him, but I didn’t know exactly what being his caregiver would entail and how it would impact my life. I have never been concerned about the planning for my brother; this was a given as my Dad is a professional financial planner and my Mom is an advocate and support group leader. But no one had ever asked me what I wanted for James.
I knew my parents were handling things from a big picture perspective, like building a home for James, but I wanted to know more about what was involved with supporting his day-to-day life. My Mom kept a detailed schedule of James’ activities but there was something missing: the many things James required, big and small, that she and my Dad did every day.
Our family always talked about everything and I felt comfortable asking my parents anything; there were never any communication barriers. In this case, it was harder for my parents to hear this question than it was for me to ask it. While they had a plan all mapped out in their minds, they had avoided talking with Ben and me about our future roles in James’ life. Like many parents, they assumed that caring for James would place a burden upon us and they were not ready to have that conversation. I felt differently; I wanted to know what the plan was and to be empowered to shape my role in James’ life.
In many families, adult children who have a sibling with special needs have their own lives and for varying reasons, really don’t want to be involved in a hands-on manner; they may live a distance away, have family obligations of their own and/or a demanding career. Still, talking about the who, what, and where of the future support plans for their sibling is an essential conversation to have. A sibling’s expectation does not need to be that they will be a caregiver or have to change their life. It is a wonderful role to be just a brother or sister.
The truth is that while every family is different, this conversation always needs to happen. This holiday season, if the atmosphere is right, and you know what you want to say, respectfully start talking!