“I wish I was able to talk to my Mom, but she quickly becomes angry, hurt and sad. I feel like a wimpy failure, because our high charged emotions kick-in, which lead to scolding and arguing. My Mom blurts out, blames me and others for things we haven’t done. Sometimes, she even hangs up the phone on us. I can’t sleep, I worry that she will die before I have a chance to tell her that I love and appreciate her for being my Mother. Instead of recalling fun things and memories, or asking how she wants to celebrate her golden years, we end up bickering about silly stuff like, “You forgot to turn off the lights again” to big worries, like, “Why are you forcing me to wear diapers? or “Don’t you dare take away my driver’s license!”
The Senior Situation
This might sound familiar to many family relationships which are frequently muzzled and damaged by sloppy communication habits and unresolved issues that prevent mutual decisions for everyday questions or dealing with tough challenges like an incurable illness, eminent death or family finances.
In a NYC Times article, a nurse, who worked closely with elders before they passed, reported that one of top 5 regrets in their lives was that elders wished they fully expressed themselves. Rather than having authentic and open conversations in their relationships, at the end of their life, they wished they didn’t withhold their thoughts or chose to be mum about sharing opinions. Most importantly, they felt remiss to be able to share their hearts and express their love to all of those who mattered to them.
I see this happening over and over again. While there is the highest intention to connect especially to our family members, real barriers block the words. It is not lack of loving each other, it is the lack of skills or tools of knowing how to get over that hump: what to say, when to speak, how to be gracious yet supportive of each other, and often how to repair hurt feelings.
The worse-case was when a lady in my care home hung on to the hope of saying goodbye to her children because she didn’t want to die without seeing them again for one more final time. However after our many phone calls to ask her children to please visit, she couldn’t wait any longer, and she passed away. Her children never came to say their last farewells even though they lived only 1.5 miles away. That was the very sad for me to see.
There is no right or wrong answer in relationship dynamics and we can’t force any ideal scenario upon anyone or family. However in this case, I saw that a Mom was aching to see her children for one last time, but could not. While this is an extreme case, this shows that a family has the ability to make active choices that either increase connections with each other or cause separations in various degrees.
Because I saw her sadness of not being able to override and forgive the past and forge new ways of relating in the future with her family, I am dedicating my life’s work as a lifecoach to do everything in my power to motivate openings, mend relationships between elders and their loved ones and increase their freedom and joy, if they are willing to do this.
After 15 years of owning and working with elders in my care homes: Living Manoa and Caring Manoa, located in Manoa in Honolulu, Hawaii, I see many elders sitting silently with fewer opportunities to tell their stories or share their thoughts. Sometimes their children and family only visit on holidays, and the staff have lively conversations. However, these are incidental and a haphazard ways that may or may not lead to reaping great stories. I decided to create a system to insure a reveal these amazing stories by using a journal called Legendary Wisdoms of 30-40 pages so that family members can take turns to interview loved one who share their stories when they answer the questions on each page. The sequence of the journal begins with light trivia and then progresses to unveil pearls of wisdom. The stories provide a deeper look of family’s history, personal dreams and wishes, and an elder’s legacy that can be shared with others.
It is possible to use these journals for long distance relationships between elders and their family members who live outside of the city or around the world. The latest technology can used journaling by cell phones. Google +, skype and facetime.
While the journal questions may look like other similar journals that can be purchased online or in gift boutiques, I have inserted another layer in the process which is designed to bring out the best of the elders.
This technique creates a safe zone for sharing these intimate conversations, likely never shared before. Since I knew that it is hard to jump right into the journalling and coaxing out stories and fluency, I added “icebreakers” so that we can transcend these sessions into a timeless space and a stream of shared consciousness. It’s almost like spirit-writing and storytelling…where ideas arrive from a deeper source. Those who read the entire journal ought to feel the flavor from extraordinary human spirit and wise souls coming from everyday people. The journals are an amazing historical record of telling more about that person, plus it satisfies the goal of fully expressing oneself, especially inspiring us on how to cope with out own struggles, challenges and pain.
My taxi driver, Emosi, who volunteers at the Lanikila Community Center in Kalihi says that in his experience, when elders tell their stories, they come-alive as if they were living their younger age again, actually acting like they were young again at that age, imagining the taste of foods, and moving with youthful gestures. Emosi says he notices the elders become more lively, passionate and invigorated. Their voice and smile change, they speak with animation, and are transformed to that time again.
Therefore, if telling stories through these journals, unlocks this kind of enthusiasm, one wonders if we really ever become an older person in our mind’s eye, even though we see our body slowing down