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Prodigal son or astounding opportunist?

Your widowed and ailing mother is thinking about selling her house and moving into a seniors’ complex. Suddenly your wayward 45-year-old brother shows up. Mom is overjoyed that he’s come home to care for her, but you suspect the motive is really money and real estate. What do you do?

By Bob Giuliano and Connie denBok

Author's photo
Rev. Bob Giuliano is a retired minister who lives in Owen Sound, Ont.

We are a family of strong and conflicting relationships. Everyone in the family knows brother Duane and his well-intentioned acts that leave your pockets lighter. But I need to get the matter into perspective. The issue is not money or real estate. The issue is that if Mom is so easily convinced that Duane came home to care for her, she must not want to leave her home in the first place. And she may be clinging to false hope.

I call Sharon, our youngest sister, who is closer to Duane than me or my other sister. Sharon is a short, stocky, in-your-face kind of woman with a large, grinning husband. The two of them are, without apology, fired-up evangelicals.

Sharon will, I am sure, stomp over to Mom’s house with her big husband. While her husband takes Mom out to her hair appointment, Sharon will get right into Duane’s face about what he is doing there. She will speak to him in the name of Jesus, and she will speak for us all about how unable he has been to care for himself, let alone Mom. She will tell him how everyone can help Mom.

My other sister, Doris, will deal with Mom. Mom has been taken many times by Duane, and even gave up and stopped rescuing him once. Doris will help her recognize Duane’s pattern of behaviour and get her to share her true feelings about leaving her home.

I, being the eldest, have seen the will, the documents, the legal stuff and will get in touch with Mom’s lawyer. Nothing should change without the family’s consent.

Then we’ll have a good old-fashioned family meeting with spouses and kids, sort of a show of family strength and unity, where we eat good food, laugh a lot and confess the truth to one another.

Maybe together we can come up with a plan that will serve everyone.

So long as Mom has all her marbles, she can do whatever she likes with her money: save it, spend it, play the slots or move to the south of France. As for my wayward brother, Mom’s rosy perception doesn’t mesh with his track record. But unconditional love and perpetual optimism are part of her charm — and vulnerability.

Why am I so profoundly irritated with him? Mom doesn’t owe me an estate, and she made sure that at least one of her children could manage money. I’m shocked at the reservoir of my resentment and feel churlish and uncharitable in my attitude. It’s as if Mom is playing the role of God in Jesus’ story of the prodigal son, and I am the sullen older brother who has always been there to help, the victim turned villain of the story. Has my brother come to his senses — finally?

Our longtime neighbour is a cautionary tale. She opened joint accounts with one son so he could manage her bills. He “borrowed” everything she owned, leaving her without legal redress. She sits to this day in a nursing home that no one with a choice would choose.

Whatever my brother has become or failed to become, my mother needs an advocate and a plan. Centenarians are one of the country’s fastest-growing cohorts, and Mom is going to need the proceeds of her house to guarantee that she can live where and how she chooses for the next five or 30 years. If there is a surplus after her needs are met, she can allocate it however she wishes. My brother may brighten Mom’s todays, but he has no right to jeopardize her tomorrows.

And if Mom throws caution to the wind and it all ends badly? I’m so sorry — for both of them. Ultimately, I can only control myself, and I refuse to nurture resentment.

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