Why Communication is Key Throughout the Process
Even when you have a pretty good idea your loved one is probably ready for the next step, they might not see it. They might be too scared or too sad to accept it. Or they might be right and it’s actually not time yet! So proceed with this conversation carefully and keep these things in mind.
- Before you begin. How will you feel when it’s your time to leave your home, unsure about what to expect for what might the the final chapter of your life? Your loved one may feel better or worse than you would, but be ready with compassion, which actually means “to suffer together.” We’re not suggesting to get caught up in the drama (more about this later). But we are saying that you feel your emotions along side the loved one feeling theirs.
- Note your “listening-to-talking” ratio. This is about them making their transition. You are facilitating that. Give them plenty of time and space to talk. Maybe 70% of the conversation is them sharing and you attentively listening. Maybe they’ll talk themselves right into the next step?
- Words matter. Some people are triggered by phrases like “old folks home.” Maybe they have scary memories of visiting them as kids when care wasn’t nearly as good as it is now. Use the specific modern terms for the facilities in mind, or the words they feel good about, avoid phrases that may spike their fear.
- Stay calm. Be their rock of support. Let their storm pass without getting swept up in their emotion. As we said before, it’s best to genuinely “suffer with them,” but from your OWN lane.
Have the Scoop
Be prepared with specifics about why this might be the right time for your particular loved one. And share what you’ve seen or heard. For example, “Dad, when I see you asleep for so much time in your chair – while you’re missing meds – and after hearing you got lost in the supermarket, I’m thinking there’s better ways to get you help.”
Also, the senior living industry names their facilities to be differentiated from each other, but for the person that’s new to all this, it can be confusing. Be sure you’re clear on the differences between home care, independent living, assisted living and memory care.
Invite Their Involvement
Help them through this process to the extent they want. You can research together, visit places together. Your role is to empower them to drive as much of this process as they can, (as long as they still make good decisions for themselves.) And it’s possible they can’t and refuse to do any of it, and just defer to you. That’s okay too.
Before this conversation, you’ll also want to get your immediate family sharing the same vision. This can be tricky for many families who have lingering conflicts, but this must be addressed as fully as possible before talking to your loved one about moving to the next step. If there are fractures in the vision for the loved one, they should be resolved before this first major conversation happens.
Once the family is all on the same page, consider including one or two of them in this conversation. Or perhaps bring in somebody else deeply trusted. Maybe it’s an old friend, or a close connection from the church, or perhaps a counselor or doctor. Anybody that your loved one feel is advocated for them should be considered as an ally for this.
Take Your Time
This is one of the biggest decisions we can make in our lives, because it means we’re moving closer to our finals days. So be patient. This decision almost certainly doesn’t have to made right away. The loved one has probably been thinking about it anyway to some extent or another, but is likely feeling scared and sad. Perhaps those feelings run very deep and they have limited ways of getting support to process those feelings? So for the first time, very gently bring this up, and see how ready they are to engage. Maybe they shut it right down. That’s okay. Respect their timeline. Also, as mentioned before, if you spend most of the time listening, their readiness to make the transition might come more swiftly as they see for themselves the time is right.
The bottom line is that you are not alone. Millions of people are going through this same exact challenge right now with their loved ones. And you have plenty of support available to help you help them.