I have written in this column about “the greatest gift”, talking about our end of life wishes and wants and letting those closest to us know and understand those decisions.
I thought today I would clarify that this is the greatest gift when it is about our wants and needs, but when it is for our parents, we need to ask them what they want and do not want, and this is often overlooked. You are probably wondering, isn’t that the same thing?
Here is why it is not…as our parents/loved one’s age, there is an automatic change over that takes place where as children, we start making decisions for our parents. We have decided that they are no longer able, willing or, honestly, we just want some control. Parents often realize it and wonder when the decision was made (without their input), that they could no longer make decisions or speak for themselves.
It is essential for people, regardless of their age, to participate in their own life and can leave elderly adults feeling irritated or anxious and their families upset and fearful. Debbie Howard, co-founder of Senior Living Smart, said that most of us want the same four things in life: Independence, Choice, Safety, and Care, but parents and children rank these differently. As children, we want our parents safe, so we try and protect them and often, unintentionally, take away their voice and may not honor what they think.
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As children we need to love them and respect them – even if we do not agree. We do this because often we are trying to relieve our own anxiety as it relates to our parents. When we are scared, we want to control – it makes us feel better.
What is my advice? Let it go…sometimes we just need to accept that we don’t have control, even if concerned about what could happen. Amy O’Rourke, author of The Fragile Years says the first step the adult child can take is to acknowledge the difference between caring and control. She shares other ways to honor your parent’s choices: create a partnership — ask what they want instead of telling them, learn your parents’ beliefs about growing older, respect and accept your parents know what is best for them, even if you do not agree and understand parents know when they need help, but struggle to accept it – don’t bring bigger solutions than necessary – ask first.
O’Rourke goes on to recommend: For adult children — acknowledge that growing older is not easy, express your love and gratitude for the presence they have had in your life. For the older parent — acknowledge that this is hard for your children and remember they are coming from a place of love, but they are scared, and fear can come across as anger.
Speak up, be honest and remember both sides need to be seen and heard.
Rita Hagen is executive director of Hospice Alliance.
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