Because the first thing to know is they’re not the same. Your parent may be up in years, that is an aging parent (And really aren’t we all that?). A dying parent is one who has been given that prognosis of limited time. It’s important to differentiate because talking to an aging parent is not the same as talking to a dying parent when it comes to discussing wishes and, later life, and end of life desires. The similarity is that the talks are always done with caring and compassion and usually (but not always), with love.
This post is about talking with an aging parent– one who is perhaps showing signs of slowing down but is not yet ill.
- Open a dialogue now. This is the time to do it, while your parent is well and reasonably happy, with some clarity of mind. If you haven’t had a closeness or intimacy with your parent up to this point in your life, don’t give up. While you both have breath, you both have opportunity for personal growth. You can begin by talking about little things that matter to you. Maybe increase the frequency of your phone calls if your relationship to this point is mostly via the phone. If you do visit, perhaps do so a bit more. Putting more time into the relationship is a good way to change the nature of it. All talks come easier with enhanced closeness.
- Speaking of time, plan wisely. If you want to have good talks, pick a good time. If you know your dad watches golf on Sunday and his attention is glued to the TV, don’t choose then to open your heart. You may want to go out somewhere where you can truly connect. Coffee shops are perfect venues for intimacy. Bars? Maybe not so much but if it works for you… . It doesn’t matter where you are, anyplace can lend itself to warm connections. Even your own backyard if you like.
- Share your own life. If you want to talk about writing a will, for example, tell your parent how you handled writing yours. This is a time for you to be your parent’s adult child, a partner of sorts, someone speaking to a contemporary. Don’t condescend, don’t take the role of dependent child. Talk to your parent as you’d talk to a friend you respect.
- Be sure to tell your parent why you are broaching any sensitive subject. You want to protect his or her future and to make sure he or she is able to live comfortably as long as possible.
- Don’t jump in head first to the “big” talks about death and dying. Your aging parent isn’t necessarily dying anytime soon. The goal here is to find out what he or she wants going forward. The fact is that with aging come some very natural changes in the body’s ability to function. What you want is to find out how your parent wants to live as those changes happen. Just express that and most importantly, listen.