One of the most sensitive and difficult conversations you'll ever have with your parents, is the one you'll have when you realize they are declining mentally and physically, and experiencing significant emotional changes. These changes are often noticed when family and friends get together for holidays and other family gatherings.
It's Time to Have a Talk
When it becomes obvious the quality of their life is declining, and you realize your life and your family's priorities are about to change, it’s time to have what I call a Loving Care Talk.
The talk is an opportunity for you to have a caring but frank conversation about their future needs and your role in their care.
The Loving Care Talk is an important way for you to take their wishes into consideration, making them part of the decision process. You may have to have several talks, depending on your parent's initial reaction, and how much is learned and decided initially.
You should make it clear from the outset, your primary goal is maintaining their quality of life and keeping them safe, while helping them maintain as much independence as possible.
How to Begin the Talk
Here are some suggestions about what to say and how to structure the talk, depending on their capacity to understand and their receptiveness.
You could talk about how others they know have dealt with their decline in positive ways.
Let them know you understand how they may not want to talk about how they are declining.
Point out to them you realize they have good and bad days just like you do.
Be gentle, patient, and empathize, especially when they express resistance to even having the talk, let alone agreeing to making changes.
Let them know you love them and want the best for them.
Don't argue or debate.
Okay, you have a good idea of how to approach having a Loving Care Talk. It's time to consider some of the things you should talk about.
What You Should Talk About
Once you smooth your way into the talk using whatever approach you think will work, it's time to bring up specific considerations.
Whether you have one or several talks, you should talk about their expectations for the future, including their interests and the kind of lifestyle they expect to have. For example, what are their expectations regarding housing choices?
You should discuss any decline you may have seen in their ability to handle their financial affairs, such as paying bills and their ability to correctly use simple math. Are they aware of the status of their finances?
Depending on the stage of decline, the status of their financial planning should be considered, including the need for long-term healthcare and the prospect of moving to a long-term care facility. Do they have long-term care insurance?
Have a conversation about their current and future medical care and their mental fitness. Review recent medical issues, hospitalizations, and tests they may have had.
Address financial and legal issues, including the presence of a will, the need for a power of attorney or financial power of attorney, estate planning, and more.
When you've covered all the issues and their expectations, set realistic goals and how you will meet those goals. For example, if you agree on researching nursing facilities, choose a date to begin. If you're planning to have more than one talk, set goals for the next talk.
Make sure you talk about how God is involved and will be involved in the years ahead. Why not begin and end your Loving Care Talk with prayer, turning all decisions over to the Lord and asking for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
There's a good chance your loved one will offer resistance to having a talk. The resistance could be very direct and definitive. "No way. Never. Let's talk about something else." It could be more subtle. "I know we should talk, but not now, when I'm ready." Denial is often the reason for resistance. "I'm fine. I'm just having a bad day now and then."
When You Experience Resistance
If you experience resistance, don't argue or debate. Consider revisiting the talk at another time. Depending on why they're resisting, you could set up a future time to have a talk.
Maybe another voice is needed, someone they know and trust, or a professional who has experience with senior care.
In conclusion, chances are approaching the realities about how your parent or parents are declining mentally and physically, and experiencing emotional changes will be like "walking on egg shells. Nevertheless, the all-important Loving Care Talk should be just that, a loving talk.
Listen to God's Words
Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you. (Deuteronomy 5:16)
Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old. (Proverbs 23:22)
Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Timothy 5:8)
Also read: Exodus 20:12, Matthew 15:4-6, Mark 7:9-13
In the Words of Others
"And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count, it's the life in your years that count." Abraham Lincoln
"Of all the lessons I've learned through my years of caregiving, the most important is to keep the love connection going. Just tell them you love them again and again and again. You will never say it too much, ever." Joan Lunden
Think About It
Have you noticed changes in your parents that would warrant having a Loving Care Talk if you haven't already had one?
Have you and the parent began talking about his or future? If yes, what can of resistance have you met, if any?
Whether you've already had a talk or plan to, make a list of the issues you want to raise. Use the above suggestions as a start.