Henry and Paul came in for a mediation session with both their wives. They had a conflict regarding the care of their 80-year-old mother who was afflicted with Alzheimer’s. When their mother’s condition was diagnosed, Henry and his wife proposed to bring the mother in to live with them. Paul, who lived in another state and was still raising children, accepted the offer readily.
The deteriorating relationship between the brothers became more apparent when Paul voiced his concern that his inheritance was dwindling away. He began to question many of the expenses incurred as “Necessary? Or are they just for Henry’s convenience?“
Their mother’s worsening health required round-the-clock help as well as a lot of paraphernalia. It was also necessary to make modifications in Henry’s home such as widening doorways so the mother’s wheelchair could get through, all of which were costly.
In the course of the mediation, Paul also brought up that their mother had, in the past, helped Henry with the purchase of a house, while he received no equivalent gift. In fact, Paul always felt that his mother favored his brother. And now he seemed to insinuate that he wanted to be financially compensated.
The tension between the brothers—as well as between their wives, who sided with their respective husbands—was very high.
As the conversation unrolled, a laundry list of past, present and future expenses was developed. Some minor ones were taking on as much importance as some of the bigger ones. They were addressed one-by-one, with Henry explaining to Paul their mother’s need for one thing or another.
The mere fact of being able to talk about the situation together had an effect that was nothing short of miraculous. Paul now felt included and considered as an equal by Henry. Not much could be done about the past’s lack of connection, but they talked about communicating on a more regular basis and both being involved in important future decisions.
Henry admitted that he could understand how Paul might have felt when he alone received financial help towards the purchase of his house. Henry could not change Paul’s feelings regarding the unfair treatment from his mother, but he did offer to take a smaller share of their mother’s estate to compensate Paul.
Henry and Paul realized that once their mother died, they would be left with each other, and they could benefit more from closeness than from ongoing resentment. Now they also had to convince their wives to support their rapprochement, and this was no small task.
The mediation process will not necessarily erase all past resentments, but it can certainly open doors for much better communication. Once the parties start working together in good faith, they can accomplish a lot as a team. With time, they may grow closer as they come to terms with the past.
Jennifer Safian. divorce and family mediator
divorce and family mediation
upper east side of manhattan (nyc)
new york, ny