By Jess Stonefield
All of us who have kids know there was an awkward moment when we realized we needed to have “the talk” with our children. I’m there right now with my 10-year-old, in fact, and it’s brutal. But what many of us don’t realize is that as our aging loved ones grow older, it is equally important to have a talk with them—not just about financial documents, living wills and power of attorney, but about how they want to live and be cared for at end of life. The holidays are a great time to start a larger conversation about aging—and to include our own needs and desires in the conversation.
What to Ask
Nearly 90 percent of seniors would prefer to age at home. But that statistic only tells us where they want to age. The greater question is: how? The following are a few questions that will help guide your conversation and gain a better understanding of how your mother. father, or grandparents wish to spend the final years of their lives. It may also allow greater fulfillment for you as a caregiver, as well.
What makes life worth living? Having a long life is not the same as having quality of life. What can you be doing now to improve the quality of life your loved one is living–as well as your own? What is important to them? To you? What turns a normal day into a good day? Is it going to church? Caring for a pet? Spending time with their grandchildren? Small things make all the difference to all of us. Find easy, workable solutions that can make both of your lives better when it counts–right now.
How much have you saved? Yes, it’s an awkward question. But research from AARP shows the average caregiver spends about 25 percent of their income on caregiving—whether they were prepared for the expense or not. Get down in the dirt—and be realistic about what’s possible in terms of home renovation, assisted living, or in-home care. It’s better to know the real possibilities now than to discover your real limitations later.
What do you want us to keep? Every time I went home to Pittsburgh to visit my grandfather, he’d hand me a stack of photos as I left the door to make sure they didn’t get lost when he passed away. The truth is, there are things your loved ones want you to hold on to —but there is a lot more they are OK to release. Start the clearing process early. It will be an opportunity to bond over your shared history, and to get to know your loved one better in the process. And, it will prevent a lot of stress when they eventually make their transition.
What’s on your bucket list? As we face our final years, many of us will come face to face with goals we never accomplished or trips we never got to take. That goes for caregivers, as well. Discover your loved one’s greatest wish–and your own!–and make it happen while you are still here.
What is your legacy? It’s a deep question but one worth exploring if you want to do justice to your loved one’s life. Help them know this life was not for nothing! Focus on the values they want to pass on, rather than simply the wealth they may or may not be leaving behind. Discover the torch they want you to carry in their name, and consider the legacy you’re building as you provide the care they need at the latter stages of their lives.
We all deserve to experience life—a good and fulfilling life—as long as we are on this planet. It’s time we all got talking about it–and the holidays are a great time to start.
Jess Stonefield is a contributing writer on aging, technology, senior care, housing, and the greater longevity economy for publications such as Forbes.com, Changing Aging, and Next Avenue. She is passionate about impact investing and the greater concept of “equitable equity”—spreading wealth to all levels of our society. She is a communications expert for Senior Living Fund.