We all have conversations which clamor in our heads and never come out of our mouths. I call them “invisible conversations” ™. They happen with our spouses, our friends, our co-workers, our children, and they happen with our aging parents. They cost us time, energy, and even money. They also keep us stuck in old patterns of relating to others.
The thing about invisible conversations is that it’s possible for them to be resolved within a moment’s time. All of that internalized, bound-up energy can be released and deeper bonds can be formed within important relationships.
If you’re planning on visiting with your parents or grandparents over Easter or Passover, why not take the time to have some of the important conversations you need to have about their care, both now and in the future?
Here are a few scenarios and ideas about how to approach some of those conversations with dignity and respect:
1. During your visit, you notice that Mom is more forgetful than she has been in the past. Maybe she has lost a few things and seems more confused than the last time you saw her. Or perhaps you come across some bills she has forgotten to pay.
This may signal a need to take her to the doctor and have a cognitive assessment to determine whether she is experiencing some normal age-related dementia, or early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, or even other issues all together.
Some ways to approach this situation might include one or more of these questions:
a. Mom, how have you been feeling lately? Are you worried about anything having to do with your health?
b. Have you been to see your doctor recently? Maybe we should go and check in with her to see if everything is working OK. OR, maybe we should check in again with your doctor and make sure your medications are the right dosage. I’d like to come with you, so I can be a support and an extra set of ears for you.
c. Do you need someone to help you with your bills or your checkbook? I would be happy to help make sure that’s handled so you don’t have to worry about getting your bills paid on time. (Or if someone already has Power of Attorney, you might suggest he or she take more responsibility.)
2. Dad has always been in good shape, but has recently experienced some health issues. You are unsure whether your parents have living wills and haven’t had the conversation about what their end of life wishes are. You also do not know if they have designated a Health Care Proxy/Power of Attorney.
Some ways to get into this conversation are:
a. I was concerned when you had your last health scare. We haven’t talked about what your wishes are in emergency situations if you are unable to communicate. Have you and Mom drawn up living wills so I know how to honor your decisions if something happens?
b. My friend’s father just had a scary situation. He recently had a severe stroke at home and was unconscious for a few days in the hospital. No one knew what kinds of care he wanted, because they hadn’t talked about it before then. It made me think, we haven’t had that conversation either. What do you think about that? Have you and Mom discussed what your health care wishes are? Have you chosen someone you trust who can make those decisions for you if you’re unable to do so? If so, does anyone know where your documents are in case of an emergency?
3. You notice that Mom is not able to get around like she used to. You’re concerned that she may not be getting to the grocery store or remembering her medications on a daily basis. You wonder if it may be time to get some additional help.
Some ways to approach this conversation may be:
a. Mom, I know it’s hard for you to get out and around to do errands. Would it be helpful to have someone come in a few hours a week to check in and make sure you’re ok? Maybe that person could take you to do some errands and check to make sure you’re OK when I’m not here.
b. How can I help you live your life as fully as possible? What kinds of things would you like help with at this point?
c. Have you thought about where you’d like to live in the future if your health declines? How can we help make that happen? (What kind of resources or insurance do you have? Or what kind of changes would we need to make to your home? What kind of help would we need to get for you?)
Finally, for many people, family gatherings may leave then with great anxiety, feeling all of their emotional buttons pushed. No matter how accomplished they are, they can sometimes feel like they’re a young child when certain topics come up and old patterns start to churn.
If this is your experience, during this time of renewal and new life, why not consider forgiving your parents for their past transgressions? You won’t have them around forever, but you have the opportunity right now to move beyond anything which may have happened long ago. It can make a huge difference in the way you spend your time together during their last days, and it will leave you with a lighter heart.
For more, see Shannon’s new book, The Invisible Conversations (tm) with Your Aging Parents, which is now out in paperback on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and eBook format on all platforms. Dozens of topics are covered from “When driving is no longer safe” to “Aging and Alcoholism”, from “What Documents You Need on File”, to “Communicating with Siblings”, and from “Unfinished Business” to “Loss and Grief”, among many other topics. Visit Shannon at www.shannonawhite.com, on Facebook, and Twitter.