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We need to have the 'next-stage-of-life' talk

By: Martha Hobson | Originally Published Here.

Hard decisions. So where do you want to live when you need a little more help?

“Sometimes, we need a little more help with the house, but that does not mean we are ready to move to a retirement center.”

“It’s not as if my daughter comes to visit as much, as it is she comes to check the expiration dates on the food in my refrigerator.”

“Even though they live far away, my whole family is sniffing around to be sure I am okay and can still take care of the house and myself. I love my big house and my cat and my dog. I want to stay here. I wonder about home health-care options.”

“A lot of people thought I had it best because I had a small apartment with my son’s family, but they were so busy I never got to see them. I was lonely. I like assisted living so much better.”

“I know he is not going to want to move, but I think your dad will need to go to assisted living if something happens to me.”

“My son thinks I need to move to assisted living, but how can I leave the house where I’ve lived for 50 years? I wouldn’t even know what clothes to take with me. On low-key days here, I ‘adult’ from the waist up but wear pajama pants all day.”

“Yes. The children have been involved all along in our decision to go to assisted living. It’s a family decision.” The children are ages 52 and 55.

“Can you imagine emptying this house?”

Mother to daughter: “I don’t know what I want so it’s no wonder you don’t know what I want.” Daughter: “Well, we need to look at home-health-care options and then go look at assisted living places.” Mother: “But, you don’t have time for that. Daughter: “I will take time.”

So, is it harder to have the “sex” talk with your teenagers or the “next-stage-of-life talk” with your adult children?

Most families are in unchartered waters in the aging sea.

So, what do we want as we age? How do we talk to our children about our needs? Our ambivalence makes the conversation harder.

Parents and their adult children need to have the talk, but mostly they don’t know how. Adult children, by and large, do not want to talk about their parents’ getting older, and older parents have all kinds of issues about getting older and even admitting that they need help, so they don’t much want to talk either. A standoff.

This is not a piece about aging parents who make all kinds of unreasonable demands on their children, nor does it describe the adult children who would just like to ignore their parents. Those are different issues and a different article. And, this is not the nursing home story, which is truly a different piece. This is about functioning adult children and their aging parents — still a tough topic.

This is a piece about stalwart souls caught in aging bodies that do not hear as well, see as well, process information quite as quickly or walk as steadily as they used to.

Interestingly, the research gives advice for how an adult child can start the conversation (don’t start by asking about funeral arrangements), yet the original research does not suggest that the aging parent start the conversation. Not. A. Single. Suggestion.

It appears that geriatric social workers, psychologists and gerontologists are focused on adult children. In so many instances, I contend, the aging parents need to start the conversation.

If, as you age, you can figure out what you want and what is doable, you are going to save a lot of heartache and headache for your children — and yourself. If you can’t figure it out by yourself, ask your friends and family to listen to what you are thinking. It’s easy to get defensive when family or friends push back on what we are saying, but we need to listen, to pay attention to how people react to what we are saying.

And, we are going to have to have the money conversation.

Except for celebrities and braggarts, not talking about money is both a cultural and generational thing in our country. But, money will come up, either in a reasonable setting or in a crisis situation. Part of our reluctance to talk about money, of course, is that we do not even know how long we will live or how much we need.

As I was retiring from the financial-planning world a decade ago, sophisticated computer programs were emerging to determine how much money older people would need to the end of their lives, but the programs could never account for the unexpected, of course.

Our reluctance to talk about money to our children is even more complicated than our cultural bias. Most ordinary mortals do not know how much they will have at the end of their lives. By some accounts, people spend 80% of their assets in the last 10 years of their lives.

There is interesting advice about when to have “the talk." Some say It is at holiday times when the whole family is gathered together, but for many families those times are too noisy and chaotic. Others says to talk on a quiet drive or quiet afternoon with only one or two family members. Having the talk after a doctor visit where health status has changed is necessary. All recommend having the talk before an aging parent is critically ill.

One friend asked another friend, “Are you living your best life?”

“I don’t know,” responded the other. “I’ve never been 75 before, and I don’t know what my best life is.”


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