A couple of years ago, I met with three adult brothers whose mother, Peggy, had passed away. Although Peggy had a Will to take care of distributing her real estate, and she was foresighted enough to divide her savings into three equal accounts naming each son as a beneficiary, she left a household full of furniture without any instructions as to how to divvy it up. The brothers couldn’t agree on who got the 60″ flat screen t.v., and who got the baby grand piano. Two of the brothers were also at an impasse about their childhood bunk beds. Can you imagine three 30-something-year-old brothers fighting about bunk beds?
Here’s another scenario: two sisters in their 40s. Emily lives in Chicago and Amy lives in Las Vegas. Their mother, who also lives in Las Vegas, is in an assisted living facility in the memory-care unit. Amy is in charge of overseeing the day-to-day care of their mother, while Emily is in charge of paying the bills. Think that’s an amicable division of filial duty? Think again.
Each of the above scenarios was amicably and efficiently resolved in a single mediation session. As a neutral third party, I facilitated a conversation between the three brothers. Instead of starting out with who gets what, I asked each of them to tell me a little something about their mom. Then I sat back and listened to some pretty funny stories about their childhood, including some reckless swan-diving off the top bunk. And guess what? The middle brother has two young sons who were just about bunk-bed age. The youngest brother has a daughter who wants to take piano lessons and, by default, the eldest brother walked away with the flat screen. They resolved their own conflicts simply by talking to and listening to each other!
As for the feuding sisters, the Chicago numbers-cruncher, Emily, objected to certain expenses that Amy spent on their mom. “Why are you buying toilet paper at Wal-Mart?” she asked. I swear, this is not made-up. The answer was that mom didn’t like the toilet paper at the assisted living facility. When Amy explained, Emily became very quiet. She admitted she was jealous that Amy got to spend way more time with their mom and she suspected she was nit-picking about the expenses out of her own jealousy. I gave them both a moment of thinking time, and then suggested that Amy schedule a few private face-times every week between her sister and their mom. They instantly agreed.
The purpose for relating these stories is to point out that a neutral Mediator will help each family member to have an equal voice in order to understand the sensitivity and perspective of each other. A Mediator can also help the siblings brainstorm possible solutions. Bunk-beds and toilet paper may come and go, but family is forever.