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The Ultimate Family Team Building Experience

Elaine, my first cousin, and I travelled to the desert 3 years ago. The desert is Palm Springs and it is the home of our mothers' brother, then age 87. Uncle T had summoned the two of us to his marble walled, marbled floor home to talk about three of his concerns: his concerns at the end of his life, where we could find his valuables once he was gone, and the details of his complicated funeral.

Without any natural children of his own, Uncle T's old age was in our hands and my competent cousin committed his wishes to writing. Little did I know that this responsibility would provide the groundwork for the very best team building experience.

While I visited Uncle T once every year and talked with him weekly, albeit superficially, my uncle's 90th birthday trip aboard the Sapphire Princess allowed the family of Edgar Tubby Gold to spend time together. Twenty-one family members celebrated his 90th birthday. One outcome of the 7 days aboard the Queen of the Sea (as she is nicknamed by the crew) was that after spending time together at meals and shipboard activities, other members of the family joined in conversations about my uncle and his care into his old age. An infrastructure of a kind was crafted as to who would do what if Uncle T became ill or unable to manage his financial affairs. The doctors in the group stepped up and several family members joined informal committees of care.

The cruise ended and several of us visited Uncle T in the desert. We talked over the amended plans and discussed the "what ifs" that might occur. Then my cousins, my sisters and I developed a plan. At the core was my uncle’s stated wish not to die alone but to be around family.

We believed that we had a strategy in place if and when the "health event" happened. We discussed it with Uncle T. He agreed to the plan. I think he loved the attention and the focus. Then, in July "it" happened—it required conversation, planning and immediate intervention among the group of cousins. All the prior ground work had been helpful for establishing a base but when the rubber hit the road or Uncle T hit the marble floor we had to reevaluate. Our Uncle did not want to grow old, suffer with health problems, did not want to do things any way but his own, had his own ideas as to what was a reasonable amount to pay for care that included below market salaries and in the end his own idea of an infrastructure built on a deep fear of aging, dying and having no money. The loving family helpers tried to make sense of it with multiple phone calls, conference calls, emails and calls to professionals. We worked as a team at trying to understand what to do and how to do it. With all of us living on different coasts, working and raising families we learned about how each of us thought about aging, the help that really helps, and imposing our will on someone who just wanted the company of his family. Even though agencies were fired, caretakers replaced, food absent from the refrigerator, repeated late night visits to the hospital, our Uncle wanted to call the shots his way. He wanted our care and attention—but on his terms. My frustration with how difficult this process was slowly began to make sense.

In the end, the many emails, conference calls, unscheduled visits to the desert in August, we as a family came to the decision as to what is the help that helps. The decision was not easy to reach. I, for one, felt helpless and a far way away. However, throughout this process, it taught me a lot about my cousins and sisters and the significant strengths that each had. Working together with my family, whom I thought I knew from social engagements over the years, taught me about working in a real team, when the team work really mattered. While we all had different approaches and the differences were hard to negotiate when under pressure of a health emergency, in the end it worked.

My uncle unwittingly gave me the best inheritance of all—the chance to work on a meaningful, unsuccessful challenge as a family, and to learn from it. I have benefitted from doing so. I got to know a competent and caring group of people—my family.

Filed under Family

1 comment for "The Ultimate Family Team Building Experience"

Rebecca Maccini says:

This is a great story. Thank you for this because I have been thinking about my beloved aunt who is in a similar position as your uncle. What a wonderful opportunity to learn about one's own family and the family's strengths, and abilities to rise to challenges.

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