Thursday, June 4, 2009

Conversation Starters

We're talking about talking. How you might gather information about your parent and her wishes directly from her. So how do you get started?

First, you might ask, "Why do I have to start anything at all? Why can't I just wait for my parent to bring the whole subject up?"

Answer: You're very fortunate if your parent does bring up the topic of his aging and his ability to live independently, because then you know that he is thinking about it and his interest makes conversation easier. You want to start the conversation because you're reading this blog. You're actively considering future possibilities, but you don't have a clue about your parent's thoughts or plans. You've noticed that your parent's status has changed in some way, and you want to learn more. You’re starting the conversation because your first priority is you, and you’d like to get a head start on planning and organizing for future needs. You know that caring at any distance is tough and you want to be more prepared, more effective.

Start Early
If you can, start talking while your parent is younger and healthy. What is his current lifestyle? What are his wishes for lifestyle as he grows older and perhaps faces physical limitations? Once your parent becomes ill, what was a difficult subject may graduate to an impossible one. Start the discussions as soon as you can.

In my family topics of illness and dying were openly discussed. Although we never sat down with specific questions, my mother made it clear through casual conversation what her desires were. When my sister and I faced decisions about my mother's care, we had a firm grasp on what she would want. Those years of casual discussion made later action easier.

Your Parent's Perspective
Before beginning the conversation, take some time to consider your parent's point of view. What do you know about how she feels? As she ages, what do you think is most important to her? Consider the following:
  • Remember that control and independence--both financial and emotional--are paramount to all of us and certainly to your parent. If she is capable of her own decisionmaking, advise and guide, but let her make her own decisions.
  • In our society, asking for help signifies a loss of control. Be aware that your parent may be reluctant to ask for help or even for advice because of this perception. You need to be savvy and use tact to draw her out. Assure her that she still calls the shots.
  • Try to put yourself in your parent’s shoes. How would you feel if you could no longer drive, no longer walk, no longer remember the simplest things? How does the collapse of her world sit with you? In your own emotions, you may find the empathy to lovingly guide her to a decision.
Conversation Starters
Bringing difficult topics into the open can be tough and a bit frightening. Try to make a natural shift to an aging topic.
  • Talk while helping with a simple task--washing dishes, folding laundry, replacing lightbulbs, caring for a pet or playing a game.
  • Looking through old pictures with your parent can spark conversation and provide opportunities to communicate in a non-threatening way. Asking questions about other relatives can give you insight into how your parent feels about growing older.
  • Seize the moment. Listen for opportunities to ask How? What? Do you ever think about it? This means actively listening and digesting what your parent is saying and then finding a natural opening to ask your questions.
  • Clip a news or magazine article about the issue you’d like to discuss and share it with your parent. Then mention the article in conversation. “What did you think of that article?” may open up the path to good communication.
  • Pretend you're seeking advice for yourself (which is not a bad idea!). Ask for your elder's opinion. It may encourage him to start thinking and talking.
  • If both you and your parent have joined AARP (another good idea), use the information in that organization's magazines and bulletins to open discussions or to share your feelings about your parent’s aging.
  • To talk about death, try approaching it the way you’d talk about a trip. “Mom, is there anything you’d like me to know or take care of before you’re gone?” asked in an interested and light tone may get the results you need to prepare for her passing.

Can you think of other ways in which you might start a conversation with your parent? What have you tried that worked pretty well? Share with us.

No comments:

Post a Comment