Sig and I recently led a communications workshop for 40 families on the topic “Necessary Conversations at Midlife and Beyond.” We divided the group into people with living parents and those whose parents had passed on. Each group was assigned questions to discuss among themselves, in order to prepare for a conversation with their own families. Here are the questions we gave the older adults, and in parenthesis the sometimes surprising answers that emerged:
1. What is your greatest concern about aging?
[The majority said dependency, helplessness, and consequential loss of freedom. This is why it’s so hard to give up driving. The second most common answer was fear of abandonment.]
2. What information do you want your children to know, but you’re afraid to mention?
[Most denied there was any such topic – I now think the word “afraid” was too strong. But some secrets came to light. For instance, one parent added a child to all his financial accounts but has not told the other children. Note: Please talk to your lawyer about the possible legal effects of this before you do it. There are better ways to allow a child to take care of your bills.
Other “secrets”: A parent wants to leave more money to a child with greater needs, but hasn’t mentioned it to the other kids. Or parents worry about leaving money to a child whose spouse they don’t trust. One secret might be a parent’s desire to marry again.]
3. How do you feel about discussing your finances with your children?
[Again, some answered “No problem” or “They already know.” But see above. Some don’t want to reveal how little they have, for fear the children will feel burdened. Wealthier parents don’t want to reveal how much, because they may want to give a large amount to charity and don’t want the kids to feel entitled. If you’re uncomfortable sharing specifics, we recommend you at least put a list of all the information your kids will need – life insurance policies, safe deposit box number and key, bank account numbers, stock broker info, etc., in an easily found place.]
4. How much do you want your children involved in making your health care decisions?
[I suspect this was the toughest question for folks to think about, because it does imply helplessness. All three small groups put it off to last and never got to it. About half did have health care powers of attorneys and/or living wills. See Five Questions. ]
5. Where would you expect to be living later in your life?
[We were surprised that nobody said “With my child.” Most said they want to stay where they are. Some are in their own homes, others had moved to a senior community like Leisure World, still others are in independent living in a continuing care facility, which they like. Perhaps unrealistically, no one expects to be in a nursing home.]
6. What’s your deepest hope for the future?
[Most common answer: “That I keep my mind intact.” One woman touched us when she said, “If I become helpless, I hope I can accept that with grace. I hope I can find meaning in it.”]
Can you think of other questions? Write a comment and let us know.
A coming blog will share the questions and answered of the adults with living parents.