All his life Philip worked hard and was successful. He amassed wealth beyond expectations. He gave generously to all of his kids, buying them homes and bestowing money gifts. In fact giving kids money was the only way he really knew how to show he cared. Expressing love in other ways was not his thing. He and his wife lived a luxurious lifestyle: country club, exotic vacations, lavish parties, fancy cars. She ran the house and he ran the flourishing business.

It all looked great when he retired. Until his wife developed Alzheimer’s disease. Things began to fall apart when he was78, with a wife becoming increasingly dependent and in need of care. He wasn’t used to running the house. Things descended into disrepair. Then his vision got cloudy and his hearing started to go.

He expected his adult children to step up and be there. But entitled kids, used to having Dad hand them things without having to work for them, never did take much responsibility. If they needed something, Dad would just buy it for them. Now Dad needed more from them but none of them had ever learned about giving back. Communication was poor. If the conversation wasn’t about money, no one had much to talk about.

Things broke down among the family members. They were never good at talking to each other or to their parents about anything of substance. Now that the parents were both in need of help they could not rely on their adult children to work on household management, or budgeting for care or doing needed repairs.

Philip found himself depressed. He looked at what he had created, all the wealth, all the things and somehow he felt a loss. Financial success had not led to family success.

But he decided to act. He decided that this part of his life was going to be meaningful before his end and he set to work.

He gathered his adult children in his home for a meeting. He was frank with them and revealed how sad and disappointed he felt. He revealed his fears, something he had never done. He told them he expected more from them. The kids looked at each other somewhat sheepishly. They admitted that they had been off in their own worlds. They told their father how much they wanted to be closer but just didn’t know how. They asked him to be open to telling them he loved them. He asked them to express more caring by showing up and pitching in. The paid caregivers for the parents were great but they were not there all the time.

Agreements were made. Some stumbling and awkwardness happened at first. But as the next month passed, the kids finally started to show up with a schedule. And empty talk was replaced by family history, expressions of thanks and acknowledgment to each other of the changes they were making.

The last years for Philip were much better. He was able to express his feelings in ways he had never done before. Maybe age just made him not care about what people might think. It had a profound effect on his family. All of them grew closer, in spite of their differences. They learned to accept each other far better, led by Philip.

Philip passed away in peace at age 84. His story is one to share with any child who grew up in wealth and any parent who did not expect enough of the kids in a younger day. Adult children can learn to give more to parents as they age and become more vulnerable. Parents can learn to express love and affection apart from cash and objects. It’s not too late in your advanced years to change for the better.

Carolyn Rosenblatt, RN, Elder Law Attorney, & Dr. Mikol Davis, Gerontologist co-founder of AgingInvestor.com

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