The old house had no bedroom or bathroom on the first floor so the eight-three-year-old woman, despite one hip having been replaced and the other causing her a great deal of pain, climbed a full flight of stairs to use the bathroom or to go to bed. The kitchen was a “firetrap”, the roof leaked, the exterior needed paint, and the yard and garden were full of weeds. Yet when the suggestion was made, via calm conversation, threats, guilt, or other dramatic or not-so-dramatic means, that it might be best for her to move to an assisted-living community, the response was a flat refusal. However, once the family decided they would facilitate mom’s decision to stay in the family home by adding a bathroom to the first floor, remodeling the kitchen to comply with the fire code, and hiring workers to paint the house and maintain the yard, mom stated the house was not worth it and quickly moved to an assisted-living community. How many of you have lived this story, watched others live this story, or both and thought, “Did I miss something?” As a matter of fact, yes, we did.
I have recently finished reading a fascinating book with monumental insights entitled How to Say It to Seniors: Closing the Communication Gap with Our Elders by David Solie, M.S., P.A. and you are about to be a victim of my first book report in a number of years. I promise that it will be worth it. With that, lean back, put your feet up, and start scrolling.
This book uses the theory of personality development by Erik Erikson as a springboard. According to this theory, every stage of life is characterized by a “crisis” or a set of tasks that are in conflict, but must be resolved to enable the individual to move forward in life. For example, the crisis for a two-year-old is needing mom while driven to individuate from her. This can result in a tantrum that perfectly expresses the conflict – mom manages the conflict and the two-year-old has expressed their independence. Do these crises actually have the audacity to rear their heads in adulthood? Yup.
Our elders are faced with the only developmental crisis in which it is necessary for the individual to, instead of pushing forward as required by every other crisis, look backward as well as permit a member of a younger generation facilitate the emergence of their legacy. This crisis is between control and determination of how they want to be remembered – their organic legacy. The difficulty is that determining their organic legacy requires relinquishment of control.
Remember the woman’s flat refusal in the story at the beginning? As long as she was being pushed in any way to make the change, she was bound by her developmental crisis to fight for control. Once her children stopped fighting for control and decided to support and facilitate her decision, she was free to make the decision that she wanted to make and the decision that was in her best interest – the move to the assisted-living community. In being freed to make that choice, she was then free to examine her life which precedes the emergence of her legacy. Generations prior to the industrial revolution lived in a communal society that naturally and easily supported our elders as they coped with losses while advocating for the birth of their legacy, we have lost our awareness of these developmental necessities for a proper end of life for older adults.
I encourage you to join me in an exploration of agendas, advocacy, and compassionate, patient communication that values our elders by reading the full article and following my blog.