They were there for you when you needed them most. Now the roles are reversed. You’re a care partner. You’re the one attending to their needs.
Your loved one — perhaps your mother, father, spouse, dear uncle, or even someone your age or younger like a sibling, niece or nephew — may be aging gracefully in good health, like a fine wine. Your path may seem relatively easy. Or they may be diagnosed with a terminal illness like cancer or dementia, with every day a struggle physically, emotionally and financially.
In either case, you must honor your aging loved one, because we’re all striving for the same goal: a life and death with dignity.
Honoring an Aging Loved One with Care, Grace & Understanding
How can you honor an aging loved one? Here are a few ways to honor their body, mind and spirit, ensuring their needs are met. (Helpful hint: you’ll also make your remaining time with them is just as meaningful and fulfilling.)
1. Practice Active Listening
A listening ear goes a long way. Aging brings a mix of emotions. Allowing your loved one to speak freely without judgment or correction helps them to feel heard. It also helps you to understand what they are feeling, even if their words or actions don’t express these feelings. Validate the feelings they express.
For example, if your dad is concerned about his lack of freedom because he can no longer drive, allow him to address that emotion. It may be to his benefit to no longer drive, but allow him to feel how he feels.
Empathize with him and don’t critique. Validate him. You can say things like, “It isn’t easy to give up the independence driving gives you. You have a right to be frustrated.” This kind of active listening shows you honor and respect your loved one’s feelings and experience.
2. Lift Up Their Lives
Your loved one has gathered many memories throughout their lives. Preserve them by capturing their past and present:
- Memorialize their life in a notebook
- Build a beautiful photo album
- Use your phone to save some audio or video memories
This shows your loved one you value their story. You can get a conversation going by simply sharing recollections from your childhood and asking what they remember from those events. Ask them about the legacy they’d like to leave behind. You can even get relatives and friends to join in. Create a blog where people can leave their own memories and share them with your loved one. These stories could help jog some more memories to reflect upon.
3. Show Affection
Don’t underestimate the power of touch. A gentle hug or a kiss on the forehead can greatly lift one’s spirits. Even the smallest touches — like the squeeze of a hand — can mean so much.
And don’t be afraid to share your feelings about your loved one. Tell them you love them. Tell them how much they mean to you. This may help foster some deeper connections between you and your loved one.
4. Help Them Process
We all die. It’s inevitable. It’s the debt every one of us owes for living. But death produces a lot of worry for everyone involved, especially at the very end when it’s very real. Don’t be afraid to talk with your loved one about their thoughts on dying.
Consider their emotional and spiritual needs when processing death. Does your loved one have a faith community or leader to whom they can turn? If they aren’t religious, are there other guides that can help them? You could seek a chaplain, as many are trained to guide conversations with people of a variety of beliefs. Many hospice agencies coordinate any necessary spiritual and counseling care for both the dying individual and close family/friends. Death doulas will do much of the same.
Avoid imposing your own beliefs upon them. Honor them by allowing them to process in a way that is emotionally and spiritually helpful for them.
5. Let Them Be Involved
It’s their life. Include them in conversations that involve their future and care. That’s why person-centered care stresses the individual at the center of the care-partner team.
Feeling powerless over their lives is a familiar feeling to many elders. Allow them to speak their minds about their care, even if you have to make a decision that is not what they’d prefer. Listening to and validating their feelings when making decisions allows your loved one to feel valued. Be sure to respond thoughtfully and avoid sounding condescending or patronizing.
6. Be Prepared
Conversations about the end of one’s life are difficult. Many people tend to avoid them because they don’t like to think about the inevitable. However, planning ahead helps you and your loved one avoid surprises.
What funeral arrangements can be made in advance? Does your loved one wish to be resuscitated or intubated in the case of an emergency? Will they want hospice care, if needed? Are there any financial or legal loose ends to tie up? These are conversations that allow you to honor your loved one’s wishes and avoid unnecessary burdens later on.
Let’s Build a Life Care Plan that Honors Life & Legacy
You are not alone. Caregiver Support and Resources, LLC will help you honor your aging loved one. We have over 25 years of experience with all aspects of life-care planning and can help you and your loved one build a plan that honors their wishes. We’re happy to provide referrals and guide the process in a caring and compassionate way.