Talking with loved ones about their wishes

Talking with loved ones about their wishes

Last year I spent a fair amount of time with my parents, cleaning out my grandparents' home in Akron. My uncle had lived there since my grandmother passed in 1991, and his health necessitated a move to an assisted living facility.

While we all know illness can be a part of life, having a plan to cope and support our loved ones is another chapter. I’m discovering how we say things is as important as why. The following are tips I found helpful in navigating my conversations with my uncle. I encourage everyone to start today talking with loved ones about their wishes for the future and how to plan for them.

Listen to understand. When we look from the perspective of others, we may have a greater understanding of what challenges they are facing, the losses they are suffering and the independence they are losing. And while we may have the best of intentions, they may not look like that to them.

Very few people like to be told what to do. It’s a good time to practice giving them options. Ask for their input and ideas and offer them several options. Speak to them with respect. Yelling and fighting will not accomplish anything but hard feelings. Ask questions that can’t be answered with yes or no. Instead choose questions that open discussion.

Allow your loved ones to be a part of the decision-making process. By learning what their wishes are and giving them choices, they can still maintain some independence. Ask how they might handle situations or what suggestions they might have to solve problems. The more involved they can be, the more likely they will be part of the solution.

Don’t wait to start the conversation until there is a problem. Use examples of what others are going through to start the discussion and seek their advice before it becomes a serious situation. When we wait to talk in a crisis, emotional issues make decision-making difficult. Let them know you want to abide by their wishes as one reason to bring up these sensitive subjects.

Being more proactive on the front end, rather than reactive in a crisis, also can help prevent some of the conflict and stress that occurs in families when a parent’s health starts to deteriorate and everyone is scrambling to find a quick resolution.

When appropriate, bring other family members such as siblings into the discussion. Bring the issues that are of concern to the table for discussion. Remember that keeping family peace can be accomplished if everyone works together toward common goals. We all want the best for our loved ones; we may just have different ways of accomplishing it.

It’s important to understand there is not one single strategy that is going to work for every family situation, and it may take many conversations or sometimes help from someone outside the family to help sort out the options. There’s a possibility you may need to agree to disagree, to keep the peace. If there’s no immediate health crisis, their wishes could prevail. That’s another reason to start the conversations early.

Strive to honor and respect your parents. Reassure them you will be there for them as they age even though you may not see eye to eye on how to proceed through these life transitions. Again, this will encourage early conversation and understanding of their wishes.

Revisit your decisions if they aren’t working well or additional issues arise. There might be someone else who might help to make some of the decisions. Talk with a third-party geriatric care manager, a financial planner, a counselor or a lawyer if you think they could use some expert assistance.

We are all busy but take the time to think through some of the challenges ahead and strengthen relationships today so you can follow their wishes for their future.

Melinda Hill is an OSU Extension family and consumer sciences educator and may be reached at 330-264-8722 or

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