Dear Mindful Aging,
My mother and sister share Power of Attorney for my 84-year-old father. He is living in a nursing home. My mother and sister have restricted me from visiting my father and I am only permitted to visit one hour per day.
I live in another state and it takes me 7 1/2 hours to drive to my home state of New York to visit my dad. My dad enjoys our visits.
At the nursing home, my mother and sister and father had a family meeting with the staff there. I was not invited. My dad is sinking into dementia. He really wants to go home but can’t because of his physical issues. I believe that he agreed to this restriction on my visits in the family meeting just to get my mother to stop pestering him. I believe she did this out of spite, and my sister as well, because I have refused to see either of them.
My mother has been a toxic, hateful, abusive mother to me for much of my life. My dad was always my support and I feel very close to him. My mother has mental health issues, but has refused to get any help. I myself have dealt with depression, anxiety and now an alcohol use disorder. I have gone to therapy off and on most of my adult life.
My parents have always had conflict in their marriage. This was hard on our family. As a child, I used to wish that they would separate. Now, both my parents are in their 80s. I think that my mother’s neglect of my father led him to have to move into a nursing home.
I’m in my 60s and me and my siblings are close in age. Even though I live out of state and have to drive all day to get there, I have visited my father the most since he has been resident in two nursing homes now. I visit because I want to and because I have the time and resources. Some of my other siblings live out of state too but have never visited my dad. My sister, who is the POA with my mom, works full-time and does visit infrequently.
As I am now retired from my job as a high school vice principal, I have considered moving back to my home state. But my wife and I love our home here and have community with our neighbors and friends. We don’t have that in New York. My wife is very supportive of me, but worries about how much stress this situation is causing me.
I just want a few things. I want to be able to visit my dad and come and go as I need to. I have no problem with making my visit short, as my dad sometimes gets agitated when he tires. The last time that I was there, a new nurse who was not familiar with me ended up calling the police. I was very upset, but did everything to comply. I certainly did not want to be arrested for visiting my own father! I had to shorten my visit and return home.
I have tried talking to the nursing home social worker, but have not heard back. I have considered hiring an elder care family law attorney, but I really don’t have the money for that.
What can I do?
Dear Feeling Helpless,
Thank you for reaching out to us here at MindfulAging.com. While we are not a service to provide individual consulting to you and your family, we have some general advice.
As you know, your situation with your father and visitation is complex. We cannot advise you to go against the restrictions placed by your father‘s POA’s. We see that you are a retired school vice principal and are sure that you have seen many family situations. We always honor the maxim that there are two or more sides to every story.
That said, there may be a path toward reconciliation, or at least increased visits with your father. With nursing home care in most states, the nursing homes have an Ombudsman service. This is a person who can be objective and does not represent the nursing home or facility, but is there to advocate for the patient.
You can get more information about connecting with an ombudsman in New York State at this number and website: 1 (855) 582-6769 Long Term Care Ombudsman Program
Reconciliation may simply mean shared or agreed upon goals for your father. That can come in the form of being able to communicate through a neutral, third-party; having communication about what each party’s expectations of behavior are; and perhaps listing your wishes expressed at the end of your letter to us to your family, so that they know clearly what you would like.
There are elder family mediation services. You mentioned that you did not think that an elder law attorney would help in your situation, and that is a valid conclusion. Of course, some cases must seek legal assistance from the court. But, we have seen people assume that going the legal route will help sort everything out. However, it is costly, time consuming and tends to cement family conflict and separation. Rather than spending money on the courts, perhaps everyone could agree to make the most of your father‘s remaining time: quality time spent with family. Here is a link from AARP to get you started to find mediation services that specialize in Elder family situations: How to Choose an Elder Mediator
We hear about difficult elder care family stories like yours every day. Please know that we also see families come together with solutions.
If you have an elder care or aging situation that you would like some general advice for, please write us under Contact Us.