Family festivities this time of year, anticipated with joy, may still be a taxing experience for your aging family members. Thinking ahead about how you can help your loved one may be the best gift you offer when carried out with good humor and dignity.
Last December, the Eddy & Schein Group California staff worked with the younger sisters of Norman, a 78-year-old widower. He had been very socially active until undergoing two back surgeries within the past year. In preparation for their traditional holiday visit, she encouraged the sisters to express their appreciation for the things their brother had always done for the family and create opportunities for him to participate in the holiday activities he enjoys. She also emphasized the importance of asking for their brother’s direction in regards to meal preparation, decorating, and the holiday schedule, in order to affirm his continued value and show respect while in his home. The sisters could then suggest that their brother deserved a break after his surgery.
Prior to their arrival, the sisters spoke to Norman by phone to find out what activities his church was offering in celebration of the holidays, where he wanted to buy his Christmas tree, and what time he wanted the family to arrive on Christmas Day.
They spent most of the call listening (rather than quizzing) to identify the activities that sparked Norman’s interest. From there, it was much easier to make an itinerary for the week of their visit and a list of things they needed to purchase, as well as identify tasks on which each family member, including Norman, could take the lead. Norman traditionally prepared the holiday meal, so his two nieces offered to be his sous chefs. This enabled Norman to continue in a role he clearly enjoyed, begin a new tradition, and allowed the nieces to spend some quality time with their uncle while learning a few family secrets. The collaboration made the task less strenuous and more fun. The 2014 holiday celebration was an unqualified success for the entire family!
While planning for the following 2015 holidays, the sisters reported that they intended to follow many of the guidelines that Eddy & Schein Group had previously outlined. This year has brought a few new concerns, but they felt confident, having laid a foundation of trust and respect, that Norman may be open and ready to talk about more critical issues.
Celebrating the holidays together may be one of only a few times during the year when you have contact with an aging loved one. It is valid to feel the urgency to intervene. At Eddy & Schein Group we have found it vital, and far more productive, to first build a frank and collaborative relationship. Respect is key. No matter how great the perceived decline, your loved ones certainly want involvement in the important decisions affecting their daily lives. Being a patient, caring listener and a frequent presence in someone’s life is a tremendous gift – for both of you.
Future blogs will outline the most productive approach to having that necessary conversation with your aging family member and preparing for inevitable lifestyle changes.