Helping Your Loved One Rediscover Purpose

Have you ever heard an older adult express the thought "I just want to die, I'm ready to go."  At a recent talk I was giving, a daughter said that's what her mother has been saying.  Her father passed away a year ago, her mother's health is compromised, and mom apparently feels she's had enough.  It was clear the daughter was troubled by that statement.  "Mom says she just wants to die, but she gets out a lot.  My siblings and I take turns escorting her on shopping trips and doing other fun things.  She's well taken care of.  What am I supposed to do?"

shutterstock_740820401_copy.jpgMy response went something like this..."I have no doubt you take good care of her, and it's wonderful that the family is involved and willing to do what they can.  Let me ask you this, was your mother the kind of person who did things for others in her younger years?"  Of course the answer was yes.  I then proceeded to share that as wonderful as it is for her mother to get out, and for the family to take such good care of her, she's still missing one big thing in her life...PURPOSE.  They all have purpose in taking care of her.  But I suspect she feels that she no longer has anything to contribute, that she has nothing to offer anyone anymore, that today it's all about others doing for her.  Essentially her purpose has become "taking" instead of giving...and that's not something she, or most of her generation, is good at or comfortable with.  

Physical care is different than mental and emotional care.  In the midst of taking good care of your loved one, consider what contribution they can still make, what purpose they have that they may be overlooking.  It doesn't have to be big, and certainly not strenuous.  For the next family gathering could mom make that one dish that she was so well known for?  Could she provide counsel or just a loving ear as you share a quandary you may have, maybe share her perspective on things for you to consider? She does know you well after all.  Could she call a friend of hers who isn't getting around much anymore, just to talk so they have a conversation with someone today. 

When she offers to fuss a bit and make you something you used to love over the years, let her fuss.  It's not about you needing her to do that, it's about her needing to do it.  It's about her worth, about her contribution to you, the family and life.  It's about looking for the things she can still do instead of always focusing on the things she no longer can.  Sometimes children are so considerate we end up limiting their parent's lives without realizing it.  In the midst of wanting to show our love by caring for their every need, we may be robbing them of things that, no matter how small, gave them purpose.

You know what I would love mom?  You always made the most amazing apple pie, no one's ever come close to the pies you made.  If I get the ingredients, would you allow me to join you to make a pie?  Or if she's no longer capable, ask if she'd be willing to give you the recipe so you can make it, because the memories of her pie are so wonderful.  Instant worth…instant pride.

When's the last time someone asked for their opinion?  And I don't mean simply being agreeable with what others have said.  When's the last time something they did or said had a positive impact on others?  Yes, they've given so much over the years to so many, and yes, all you need from her is her love.  That may be enough for you, but may not be enough for them. 

I often tell clients who are considering assisted living in a Laureate Group community, that our philosophy is "we are there to help them help themselves."  I then go on to explain that we are prepared and able to provide a lot of cares and services for our residents.  But our goal is to support their independence, not take it away from them.  What they can do for themselves, we encourage.  And what they need assistance with, we support.  We're there to assist their independence, and that can mean very different things to different people.  

Take a new look at your loved one, talk with them about what's meaningful to them, what's hard to give up, and what is fulfilling to them.  With some creative thinking you may just find that they're able to do more than you and they thought.  It's at least worth a conversation.  Help them rediscover PURPOSE!