The holiday season
is upon us, a time when families gather and share the joy of the season.
Having had the pleasure of working with older adults for many years I’ve
learned that when families come together they often notice that mom or dad may
not be doing as well as the last time they saw them. Sometimes it’s a
subtle change, other times it’s clear they’re no longer safe in their current
environment. But opening up the subject of a move can be daunting for
parent and child alike. With that in mind I thought it would be timely to
repost a series of articles I’ve previously written on “How to have an honest
yet honoring conversation with your loved one.” I hope you find them
helpful, and that they open the door for a meaningful conversation with your
loved ones. Wishing you and yours a blessed holiday season.
My parents refuse to
talk about moving. What can I do?
Home for many seniors equals independence. Moving from a home later in life, especially one they’ve enjoyed for many years can be extremely difficult. Then when you consider that some seniors view this as “the last move” you can understand why one may not want to discuss moving. So many emotions come into play that some seniors are unable to separate the house from living. Talking about change can be difficult and stressful for everyone. Having said that, in my experience, it is more stressful having a sudden health crisis force a decision to move upon a family. I’ve had the pleasure of working with many families over the years, and I’ve come to understand that even the most loving families don’t necessarily have a history of honest conversations. I’m talking about sharing feelings and talking openly about the “tough stuff”.
When you suggest to your parent that maybe it’s time to consider making a change, does the room get quiet? Does the tension increase? You love them, you want to honor their wishes, and the last thing you want or need is to have them angry with you. So would it be easier to take a step back, drop the subject for a while and enjoy the peace and tranquility this would give you? Probably. The problem is that a potential crisis may be lurking around the corner, and we all know that having a plan, even if you don’t have to use it for a while, can avert the stress of crisis management.
While a conversation about a parent’s living situation can be difficult, it does not have to be adversarial. In my years helping older adults in transition, I have been witness to many family discussions that have honored the experience and feelings of everyone involved and achieved a successful outcome for the entire family.
Consider what your parent’s reluctance to talk about moving really means. Are they trying to be difficult, or is it something else? It is important to recognize that when someone is “being difficult” they are often acting out of fear - fear of change or maybe fear of the unknown. What you see as hitting the proverbial brick wall with a parent can be a line of defense for them. What if I move and I don’t like it? What if I don’t fit in? What if I can’t afford it?
In recent years I’ve spent quite a bit of time in homes helping families have more honest and honoring conversations about change and life transitions. I thoroughly enjoy this work because it allows me to share the wisdom I’ve gained from so many seniors and families and pay it forward to others facing the same challenges. Leading our loved ones through difficult times, helping them make tough and emotional decisions in order to gain a better quality of life, is what most of us want to do. I know that my years of experience can be of benefit to others, regardless of where they move or what type of care and support they ultimately receive. Though each family is unique, their issues often are not.
Not long ago, Sue, a client of mine, asked me to meet with her aunt about the need for her to leave her home and move to a retirement community. Her aunt, Emma, resisted discussing it. Emma was barely managing in her home, but not without some in-home care and considerable help from her niece, who was having growing difficulty balancing caregiving, her full time job and her own family. Sue loved her aunt and was honored to help her and be a vital part of her life. But she also knew that Emma was alone a lot and that her quality of life had diminished significantly. She worried about her when she couldn’t be with her.
I sat with Emma for quite a while, listened to stories about her home, allowed her to share memories, and finally asked what concerned her about moving. It wasn’t an easy question for her to answer because she had so many emotions to sort through. Eventually she said, “What if I don’t like my neighbor? I don’t like my next door neighbor here, but at least I know that and have learned to live with it.”
Through more conversation, Emma revealed that she also feared she would no longer see her niece as often if she moved and Sue didn’t need to stop each day to take care of her. After I thanked Emma for being so honest, I was able to bring Sue into our conversation and allow her to express her feelings. She shared how important it was for her to stay connected, and that she would welcome the opportunity to spend time with her aunt that did not revolve around care giving but was time spent together having fun and making new memories.
Until a family listens to their loved one with an open mind and receptive ears, they’ll have difficulty getting at the truth and real feelings. When a family reports that they cannot discuss a parent’s living situation because he or she closes off conversation, it makes me think that they have gotten stuck behind a few common barriers to open and honest communication. Emma and Sue managed to break down the barriers and resolved Emma’s living arrangements. Emma ultimately did move out of her home to a senior community and is benefiting greatly from the supportive care that is available for her. And she and her niece are having a lot more fun during their shared time.
Feeling stuck is frustrating for everyone. But there is a solution, and you can have an honest yet honoring conversation. Perhaps some of this rings true for you. Next week I will post another article about the challenges of having difficult conversations and will include some more ideas to help guide you. It is my hope that my experience will be of help to you and your family.