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The Conversation

Yes, that one..while many of us have had awkward conversations with our teenagers about big life moments and decisions...that's our job as parents so we feel empowered by our position and knowledge in directing or redirecting our kids. On the other hand, having the conversation with our aging parents is another matter entirely. The conversation requires us to step up and assert authority we are not entirely comfortable with.

People often view the conversation as an endpoint...everyone in the family is scared to death about mom and her ability to drive, live at home, handle her finances? Someone needs to step in and intervene.

I counsel people to take a slightly different approach. Identify the truth teller in the family to be a point person; this is usually someone with a good relationship and trust with the elderly parent. It is also a person who can quietly deliver potentially bad news and withstand any personal insults hurled their way. Once this person is identified...then change the conversation.

Anchor the conversation in the difference between goals and actions. Going into a rehab facility after an injury is not a goal, nor is avoiding going into a facility. The goal is safety and independence. The action to achieve that might be rehab, strengthening, recovery that would be assisted by professional help for a period of time. Even the conversation about entering a nursing home can be framed in an effort to allow strengthening and recovery so remaining in the family home can be considered in the future. The goal remains safety and independence, at whatever level it can be.

Many elderly friends have approached me and identified me as the truth teller for them. They have asked me to tell them when the time comes that they need to stop working or leading some activity because of problems with their performance. They wanted to protect their reputation built over years and years. They needed me to be honest and would accept my input when the time was right. Reassuring them they were not at that time, but that I would be honest if that time came was important (& probably kept them from quitting prematurely)

I have had the conversation in the most dire of circumstances. Our hearts still love and desire the best possible outcome, even when hope dims. We can support the spirit and heart of a person while at the same time acknowledging the body can be weak. Never let go of that and keep it alive in your conversation. Without that safe place to express our deepest hopes and dreams and love we are just conducting business and the conversation is not a business transaction...keep the focus on the love and support.

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