Many families gather together during the holiday season. This is the perfect time to have a meaningful conversation with your elderly parents. But many of us have difficulty opening up a serious conversation with them. Let me give you some suggestions that will help to get the ball rolling.
The experts have told us that there are two things that dominate the thoughts of our elder parents. The first is the desire to maintain control over their lives, to be able to stay in their home, to continue to drive, to do what they want to do when they want to do it. But as their health deteriorates this is often hard to do. That’s when the second most important thought takes over. “What will be my legacy? How will my family remember me?”
2600 families with elderly parents were interviewed by the Allianz Insurance Company. 70% of them responded that discussing how the parents would want to be remembered by their children was a conversation important to them. But when polled, only 30% of the families had made the effort to do so.
When was the last time that you asked your parents, “How do you want to be remembered by your grandchildren and great grandchildren? If you are willing to ask that question, close your mouth and just listen. And remember to listen carefully. Drop all your preconceptions of what they will say and how they will say it. Listen with an open heart.
But if you are not willing to open with that question, I suggest you start with a question that everyone is willing to answer, “How did the two of you meet?” That one was a shocker for me. When my mom was moving into assisted living I reviewed with her the important documents that she held in a metal box. Amongst her legal papers, was an envelope marked “ Letter from Bob while overseas” This was a seven page poem that my father had written on his way across the Atlantic to fight at Normandy in the D-Day invasion. It was in perfect condition. It described how my parents met and their courtship and marriage. I was surprised to learn that my mother, at age 15, ( in 1930) had called my dad to take her to a party after they had met skating that afternoon. (She still denies it to this day).
Once the conversation starts to flow, it’s important discus other areas. Things such as, “ Have you thought about what you want to do if one of you becomes sick? Do you want to stay in the house? Who do you want to take care of you? You might mention what happened in other families when these issues were not discussed. The crisis and confusion that followed.
I’d suggest that you then share with them, a very valuable three page form, “Five Wishes”, a well organized and sensitive questionnaire that gives them the opportunity to write down their health care preferences in many different situations. It can be found at www.agingwithdignity.org. Don’t try to have them fill it out then. Leave it with them and check in with them at another time to discuss their answers. You can also read my book, “Can We Talk?” where I have a created a series of more that 20 forms to gather important information from your parents. You can find it at www.parentcareplanning.com