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Knowledge is power

The Holiday Season: Great time to start a conversation about aging

How important it is to openly discuss aging, death and family member’s wishes around getting older.

Why is it so difficult to talk with loved ones about the practical issues pertaining to growing older, weaker and less able to care for oneself? Is it fear, is it denial, is it the discomfort most of us have when thinking about something unknown? Is it really tough to get all the interested parties in one room together, given how busy everyone’s life is? I think the answer is yes to all of the above.

Let’s face it; we all get older as do our family members. No one is immune or unaffected by this reality. So, why then is making plans and discussing the future such a seemingly insurmountable mountain to climb?

The Nike logo – just do it is probably more than accurate. The facts are not going to change. We get older and we rely on others for our day to day care and to make responsible, thoughtful decisions for us. So, why are so many people in the position where they have been thrust into a situation that calls for an immediate response and yet don’t know which way to turn?

We don’t know because we don’t like to confront seemingly unpleasant realities and encourage those closest to us to do the same. We don’t know what to do or what Mom would want because we have not asked her and she has not offered her wishes.

It can be as simple as a question of logistics; where does Dad want to live once he can no longer take care of the family home he has resided in for over 50 years? Does he want to live near one of us? If you don’t ask the question, you don’t have the answer when the time comes. And, you might not like the answer and need to let the family know that this option will not work.

It can be as complicated as having a family member on life support in a hospital bed, tubes going in and out, etc. If they could open their eyes and communicate – what would they say about their treatment? Would they want to have the plug pulled?

Barring an unforeseen catastrophe, these types of situations can be made so much easier for all involved if we could just sit down and talk. Talk about feelings/wishes/thoughts/fears about the future. Talk about choices and options. Talk about finances…

The holidays offers us an opportunity to see family and close loved ones. It can be a perfect time to begin or continue a dialog about getting older and all that entails. Actually being in the same room as your family members and being able to share eye contact and body language can be crucial to having a productive and honest conversation. In addition it is a good time to also access how the older family member is doing. Often a person will minimize their decline and seeing the reality first hand can help move the conversation along. This doesn’t have to be a conversation that is dreaded; one that puts a damper on the holiday spirit. These talks are part of family life and should be included as a matter of love and respect.

I speak from experience on this subject. Several years ago, the elder members of my family were sitting around a holiday meal and the discussion came up. I was asked by all to be their Health Care Proxy. I was flattered that they felt comfortable enough with me to not only discuss but to ask me to perform this function. The conversation came up because we were concerned that they had indeed aged rapidly and not in a way that allowed them to continue living the way they had for the last seventy five years. Changes needed to be made.

Looking back on that time – after having had to exercise these proxies; I am so glad I was able to do so with the knowledge of what they wanted at this point in their lives. Each one was different and required different decisions but I was able to make them with the surety that I was indeed carrying out their expressed wishes.

Communication is the key to the knowledge we need to make the tough decisions. Communication can also be empowering to the aging individual; that they were able to articulate their wishes and trust that they will be honored. It’s also reassuring to those that will be charged with caring for loved ones as the actions taken are truly in good faith.

Happy Holidays!

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