Not so fast

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

I glossed over something a little too quickly in last week’s Wellness Wednesday in my story about nudging my mother off her unhappy track (having Parkinson’s, having no control over much of anything and now living in a memory unit) by getting her to tell me a story about a happy time in her life. I’m pretty sure she was only willing to go with me here because of the first, very important step: the part where I take a minute to truly see her and acknowledge her feelings before shifting gears. I needed to let her know that I understood how unhappy she was and tell her how sorry I was not to be able to change the things in her life that make her so unhappy before moving on to asking her tell me stories from her life. I told her there was still so much I didn’t know about her and this was what I wanted to find out in the time we still had together.  
And so, knowing how much I love fixing things – myself and others – and because we all generally love getting to the good so everyone can feel better fast, this Wednesday I’m circling back around with a caution about how rushing through this crucial first step can backfire fast. My recommendation: don’t rush sympathy, but don’t linger there either, because that’s a slippery slope, too.
One last note on the topic of storytelling and something interesting that came out this past weekend at my mother’s birthday party. Riffing on this tell-me-a-story idea, we played a guessing game with questions about Mom’s life, like how many kidneys does Mom have (3 as it turns out) and what was her favorite pet. This got the great grandchildren involved and ensured Mom wasn’t left out of the conversation while everyone else went about socializing, something that can happen to the vulnerable ones. The interesting thing: when my sister called Mom to ask what her favorite part about the party was, she said it was being able to talk about herself. This says so much about all of us; how we all want our stories to matter. It says this is our way back to Mom.
May your Thanksgiving be filled with many happy tales!
Helping aging parents is an experience many people will have at some point in their life – in addition to becoming one of those aging people themselves. If you are interested in reading a longer story about this time of life, Old People is one of the stories in a book I’m writing which you may be able to relate to.