Mother May I? – In Reverse

I have been blessed with a father who is what you would call a “communicator.”  My mother has a bit more difficulty verbalizing her feelings and needs, which we jokingly blame on her Swedish heritage.  Ultimately, their communication styles are complementary, and together they have made sure that each of their four children is crystal clear about their care and housing plans for the future.   It never occurred to me that these two bright, capable, independent people would need or want our approval or input regarding the decisions they have made – until I met with Sandra, Harriet, and Elena.  Each one of them came to have a look at the retirement community where I worked.

Sandra was a quiet woman with a boisterous dog and a heavy heart.  She missed her late husband and wilted at the thought of having to make a move from San Diego to Los Angeles.  Her son was affable, loving, and deeply respectful of his mother’s autonomy.  He scrupulously avoided voicing his opinion, believing that was the most generous way to support her and not put any pressure on her.  She made a decision but second-guessed herself every step of the way.

Harriet was an artist with macular degeneration and a bit of cognitive decline.  She adored her eldest son, whose career was in overdrive.  He had little time to spend looking at apartments with her, but when he finally did come in, he said next to nothing about her selection.  Harriet repeatedly asked for his opinion.  He would smile and say, “Mom, I trust you to make the best decision for yourself.”  She eventually made a decision but was so unsure that she almost backed out the day before her move.

Elena came in for seventeen tours over the course of eighteen months.  Her husband was living out his days in a skilled nursing facility, and she was getting lonely at home.  I met their son on several occasions.  As the number of tours he took with me increased, his level of interest in the process decreased.  Over time, Elena grew frailer and less able to make a decision.  I finally emailed her son and told him what she told me; she was waiting for her son to either invite her to come and live closer to him, or to tell her to move into our community.  He did neither. I don’t know what happened to Elena.

As good a communicator as my father is, he is also sensitive to the fact that we may not all enjoy engaging in a discussion about the road to the end of his life over a glass of wine.  He knows it’s a tough subject and rather than force it on us, he has given us an open invitation to discuss it whenever we want to.  I’m sure he would enjoy sharing his thoughts, feelings, and concerns with us, and hearing about ours, too.  As involved as I am in helping other families deal with their aging loved ones, when it comes to my parents, I would rather talk about the weather and gently push my head deep into the sand.

It’s possible that someone in your life wants your input but doesn’t know how to ask for it directly.  I encourage you to resist the weather and the sand and find out.

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