Jean grew up in a household with a disabled and angry father. Home was not a pleasant place to be. She and her brothers assumed their mother was just too weak or scared to leave him. No one dared talk about this situation.
Decades later Jean began spending time with her mother and one day took the opportunity to ask about her life. What she heard changed her perceptions of her mother from weak to the rock of Gibraltar. The interaction allowed her to respect her mom and identify positively with her for the first time. The exchange healed something inside of Jean and between her and her mother.
Jean began sharing the story of the healing conversations she had with her mother — the kind of conversations that transformed their relationship from respectful and loyal to one that was vibrant, rewarding and loving. Jean’s listeners often became quiet and thoughtful. Then they began asking questions. One woman said, “I’m flying to Texas to spend time with my 92 year-old mother. I want that kind of connection.”
These kinds of conversations require a desire for a better relationship, commitment of time and specific questioning and listening skills. Asking appreciative questions and listening to connect facilitates new ways of relating with our elders. We all yearn for loving connections with our elder parents even if we don’t know how to initiate them or fear they won’t work. Knowing how to have more satisfying interactions will lead to more contact and less isolation and loneliness for all.
Joan Chadbourne is co-author of Healing Conversations Now: Enhance Relationships with Elders and Dying Loved Ones, available now at Toas Institute.