Sometimes I find myself wanting to treat my husband’s failing health as though it were a nick-nack.  In that way, I can put it on a shelf and forget all about it.  I fight almost daily with this notion of detachment.  Psychologist call this “compartmentalization.”

In our ministry, there are three families in crisis at this moment.  Each story is unique.  Yet the bottom line is that parents are treating their failing health as though it were a nick-nack that they can simply put on a shelf and ignore.

Often there is a pattern that is followed that goes something like this narrative.  Diane’s family earnestly prepared for their deaths until the last ten years of their lives.  At that time, their younger daughter’s life fell apart and the parents needed to provide for her family.  They poured money and resources into her life and their grandchildren.  Diane’s sister became complacent, knowing that her parents would provide.  Then the savings and assets were gone; and the parents naively put  their failing health on a shelf as though it were a statuette that they could dust and ignore.  Diane was pushed into crisis mode when both parents died.

There is a constant debate within the Special Gathering ministry regarding this problem.  We understand that there is little that we can do until we are asked.  When we are asked, however, we jump with the speed of a gazelle. Often, families want their son or daughter in a group home.  This is becoming increasingly difficult as funds are continually being cut.  The State will often try to convince the families that apartments are a reasonable and safe alternative.  Here are several things which help.

  1. Establish a working relationship with the professionals in your community.  These men and women don’t need to like you or your ministry.  They do need to trust you.
  2. Learn the systems of support in your state.  Each state is different.  In Florida, each district is unique and may handle a problem in a diverse manner.
  3. Make sure that your families understand that you are there to help in the times of crisis.  Even if they don’t understand that you know the systems, they will call on you if they trust you.
  4. Before the crisis speak opening and honestly with the families about what they may face in the future.  This is a touchy subject and it requires tact on you part.  You may be able to get your point across in conversations that parents initiate regarding other families who have faced an emergency situation in the past.
  5. Get to know your member’s family.  When you must call their home, engage the family in conversation.  When you visit social events, speak to the families and inquire about their needs and desires.

We have found that when there is a crisis, our phone number is frequently put on speed dial because the families trust us.  They know that we care about their children.   There are no easy answers.  “Too often,” Richard Stimson has said repeatedly, “there are also no good answers to bring the situation into resolution.”  We must choose between two or more bad solutions.

Failing health should never be treated as a nick-nack that goes on the shelf no matter how inconvenient it may be at the time.  Crises seem to fall at the most inconvenient times; but they cannot be ignored.  What are some ways that you have found work in your ministry when maneuvering through a crisis?