Sooner or Later: Part 2

And here’s what’s going to happen:

11. Your parents are going to repeat stories you’ve heard a thousand times and test your patience and endurance by telling them another thousand times.

Comment: Instead of complaining about how many times you’ve heard these stories, assume for a moment they have a significance you don’t fully understand.  It turns out, research demonstrated that these often told stories are embedded with values and behaviors that are being admired or rejected.  As such, they represent important legacy markers for which aging parents want to be remembered.

Additionally, the stories you’ve been hearing all these years may turn out not be the whole tale.  Asking new, open ended questions about the setting and the back story of the people being portrayed is an effective way to gather more details and better understand its significance.


12.  Your father is going to ignore doctor’s orders when he comes home from the hospital after a heart attack.

Comment: Instead of overreacting to his poor compliance, help your father understand that choosing non-compliance is choosing to surrender his control and independence, the very things he has fought so hard for all of his life to protect.  Doctor’s orders may be annoying, but an avoidable loss of control and independence is far more tragic at this stage of life.


13. Your parents are going to respond to your repeated requests to talk about long term planning issues by telling you they plan to wait until “something happens.”

Comment: Instead of becoming angry at the obvious magical thinking this approach represents offer, up a simple diagram of what “something happens” looks like from your side of the table.  With or without their input, a long list of critical choices will be made under extreme duress.  Either way, you will act on their behalf using whatever input they offer and your best guess of what they would choose.


14. Your parents are going to withhold critical information from you about their health.

Comment: Instead of expressing outrage over not being told about these issues, come around to their side of the table and find out their perspective on their health issues and what they see as their options for dealing with them.  Be the control clarifier and facilitator they need as they struggle come to terms with daunting health issues.


15. You’re parents are going to struggle with “falling behind” on many fronts as they get older.

Comment: Instead of pointing the obvious, use your organizational skills to become a “keeping up facilitator” for bills, medical forms, taxes and other important tasks that easily fall to the wayside.  This gentle assist in keeping up with life’s administrative tasks shores up control and confidence of an important aspect of your aging parent’s life.


16. You’re parents are going to insist you promise not to put them in a nursing home.

Comment: Instead of making a promise that you will not be able to keep, frame your response in terms of intention and the fact that no one knows how this will all plays out.  Your goal is to do everything possible within your control to honor this request.


17. One of your parents is going to become verbally abusive and blame you for how rotten his or her life turned out.

Comment: Instead of attempts to argue you are not the cause of an aging parent’s unsatisfactory life, focus on setting up early and effective boundaries to limit your exposure to the abuse.  Inform the abusive parent that your interactive time with them will be reduce in direct proportion to the amount of verbal abuse he or she chooses to direct at you.  Be kind. use “I” sentences, but be absolutely firm.  Step away as needed and utilize surrogates to take your place with support tasks if necessary.


18. You’re parents are going to struggle with finding the right way to say goodbye at the end of their lives.

Comment: Instead of trying to control end of life conversations, allow an aging parent to create their own discussion thread no matter where it leads.  These final days of life are a sacred landscape ripe for reflection, forgiveness and acts of healing.  Facilitate the exploration of what’s being presented with open ended questions, thoughtful summaries and the profound dignity of pauses that do not require words to comforting.


19. You’re surviving parent is going to become overcome with grief after his or her spouse dies.

Comment: Instead of trying to mitigate the grief experience, help the surviving spouse control the flow and direction of their grief on their own terms.  Facilitate the back and forth emotions, unfinished business, stories and the retelling of the deceased spouse’s legacy,  The rest will take care of itself.

4 responses to “Sooner or Later: Part 2

  1. These comments are a reminder to me on how to practice being with elder clients. I already have many years of working in this field, but it is always welcome and appreciated to see these suggestions anew.

    Excellent, excellent insights and advice! –Thank you.

  2. Thank you for the kind feedback Elaine…As boomers like myself inch forward to assume the role of oldest member in the family, I realize that conversations about “them” (aging parents) are really conversations about “us” (boomers)…Which means our practice now includes how to be with the older version of ourselves as well as those we call elders…I’m also sure what seems so easy to us from the distance of “not old yet” will appear more complicated and humbling when these “here’s what’s going to happen” issues are about us instead about our them…

  3. Will forward to my siblings. The compliance scenario resonates. My late dad used to drive himself and my mother to their beach house, and as time went on he dozed off and drove the car into a ditch not once but on two separate occasions. Miraculously they survived. The 2nd time was his ‘wake up call.’ My siblings and I begged him to quit driving. His compromise was to refrain from driving to the beach, but he could drive in the city for shorter distances. Not everyone has the luxury of two second chances.

  4. Rare indeed are second chances for the same misfortune…we all have an exclusion bias built into our brains that divides risk into two broad categories: the risk for everyone else and the risk for me. Not surprising, the rules for me are always more favorable and may even excuse me for some lethal outcomes. Of course they don’t we find out at some a tad too late to avert disaster…

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