By Janet Edmunson, M.Ed.
When our parents start to age, our time and effort can revolve around making sure their physical care needs are met. That can make it hard to look for and find meaning in the experience. But this is where the magic lies.
If you've gone through struggles in your life, you've probably noticed that you've grown tremendously from the experience.
Maybe new doors opened up, or you got new insights. That's what life's challenges bring to us. No other experience in life can get us to these new levels of relationship, understanding or growth.
It's the same with this very difficult time of caring for our parents.
Here are some ways we can proactively foster the movement to greater meaning in our relationship with our aging parents.
1. Have adventures
Depending on your parent's abilities, plan adventures with your parents. This will give them personal joy while creating fond memories for you.If your parents are still mobile, consider a trip that is within their physical means. If they are confined to their home, and you live locally, bring the adventure to them, such as playing their favorite board game or reading to them.
If they are more physically or mentally disabled, your adventure might be bringing them their favorite dessert or milk shake on your next visit. These adventures can be simple things. But as you bring joy to your parent's life, you create meaning.
2. Enjoy memories
There is nothing more inspiring than to see your parents light up when you look together at old pictures and re-live the memories. This can be especially wonderful if your parent has lost some short term memory. Bringing back some of the old times can ignite their interest and enthusiasm. And I bet many parents would love one of those digital picture frames, where your family pictures can come up even when you can't be there.
3. Focus on quality
Sometimes we need to accept that our parent's health is failing and stop insisting that they try everything imaginable to keep them alive. For example, I've seen families where the kids want to put dad on a feeding tube, but the mother does not. The mother recognizes that a feeding tube will only extend the father's poor quality of life.
Kids can put a terrible guilt trip on their parents when they insist on something one of the parents does not want. At some point it may be time to just "let go" and focus on the quality of the life left, not quantity.
4. Stay present
To have a meaningful relationship with your parents, stay present. This is especially important if you live away. Call them, send them cards, email them, post on their facebook page, visit them when possible...whatever will keep you connected.
5. Develop new perspectives about siblings
Sibling conflict can be a huge detractor from making meaningful experiences with your parents. Try taking a new perspective on difficult siblings, at least for when you are around your parents. One way is to draw a circle on a piece of paper and jot down in that circle what bugs you about that sibling. Then draw about six to eight other circles around the page. Put inside those circles things that you appreciate about that sibling.
While I know the negative issue is real, and may overshadow everything else about that person, I encourage you to try this and see if it can at least help open up new perspectives and allow you to keep the peace while you're with your parents. But most important, keep the conflict out of the parent's sight. If you have major issues with your parents or siblings, though, consider seeking professional counsel.
6. Create moments of joy
Even as your parents get to the end stages of their life, they can still have moments of joy. Sitting with them and holding their hand may be enough. Hearing your voice on the phone while you share a story from your past or telling them you love them can create that moment of joy.
If they have Alzheimer's disease, just getting into their perspective and going with the flow of their needs, can create that moment. (For more ideas, if you have parents with Alzheimer's disease, check out the book Creating Moments of Joy by Jolene Brackey.)
Janet Edmunson, M.Ed., President of JME Insights, speaker and author of Finding Meaning with Charles. Visit her website at www.affirmyourself.com.