Having “the talk” with aging parents

books-CoversationsNecessary Conversations: Between Adult Children and Aging Parents

Gerald W. Kaufman and L. Marlene Kaufman

Good Books*

Several years ago, I held a family meeting with my siblings and mom to determine my mom’s wishes regarding moving from the family home she and my dad built. My mom lived well alone on the family hobby farm, keeping up with her garden and yard, but we wanted to talk about what she wanted before it became necessary to move. When it came time for her to leave her home of 30-plus years, decision making was much easier as my brothers and I helped mom downsize and move to a community closer to town.

We are living longer today. Adults are responsible for not only their children and grandchildren but also their aging parents. As our population ages, we need to prepare for this next life stage as much as we prepared for our working years.

As a daughter, and as a pastor and chaplain, I’ve learned there are many aspects to aging that need to be thought through, and I’ve seen the results on families who have early conversations about aging and the consequences for those who leave it until it’s urgent. Necessary Conversations: Suggestions for discussing finances, medical care, driving, and living arrangements – before the crises hit is a good resource to help us do this earlier in the process.

Authors Kaufman and Kaufman, both career family therapists, capably explore the range of conversations that need to take place so an adult child’s elderly parent’s life can end well.

This is not a book about whether we will age –  it’s about how we can age with grace and dignity through health and sickness.

The nine chapters in this easy-to-read book address with topics like beginning the conversation, how adult children deal with parental aging, dealing with finances, making living arrangements, communicating end-of-life wishes and more. The book ends with helpful forms and practical resources that help families collect and organize information about caregiving, health, finances, and other aging-related arrangements.

The Kaufmans live in the U.S., so some of their specific questions and forms, particularly related to health and finances, are not relevant for Canadians. Nevertheless, Necessary Conversations provides an excellent starting place for families to discuss aging.

And it’s never too soon to start a conversation about end-of-life living and dying. Throughout, the book includes great examples of people who have lived through conversations – and how parents have reacted to those conversations.

From experience – I’m now in the latter half of my life – I know that conversations about “what comes next” alleviated anxiety in my family because we now know what our mother wished for in the next stage of her life. The conversations may feel hard to start; however, outcomes are better when families have worked together to create a plan for those entering the later years of life.

Talking through the next stage of life as a couple, within families and in our church groups gives voice to questions. It may raise some fears, but it can also help us understand and prepare for what is to come. Let’s walk together with family members who are in their later years and create a quality of life that honours those who gave life to us.

—Lorraine Dick is pastor of administration and equipping at House For All Nations.

*Note: Good Books is now an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing.

Updated July 5, 2016: link changed to current site.

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