Serious content alert. No, I’m not feeling morbid, but with my recent trips focused on aging parents and three friends/acquaintances losing a parent within the past month, it brings reflection. There is an item that comes around periodically on Facebook to the effect of rather than spending money to attend my funeral, reach out to me while I’m still alive. (It’s a fairly long piece and I couldn’t find it on a quick internet search.) For most of us, not showing up to a funeral where we are “expected” causes a feeling of guilt, and in reality, if there is someone who can use you in particular for support, you should go if at all possible. On the other hand, going to visit the older (which is the topic of this post) relative/friend in their waning years is likely to be better for that individual. What to talk about can be the most awkward aspect and if it’s possible, getting the person to reminisce is often the best solution. Let him or her pick the timeframe they want to linger in and it doesn’t matter how often you’ve heard the same story before. And if it should be that the individual wants to express thoughts about their own mortality, don’t dismiss it with something like, “Oh, you don’t want to talk about that – you’re going to live to be 100.” Of course it’s not a comfortable subject and you certainly don’t need to be the one to bring the topic up, but be willing to listen if the conversation goes there.
In other situations, visiting is not financially possible, and telephoning might not work either if someone is losing their hearing or has dementia/memory loss. Cards and letters though – except for severe cases of dementia, they can make a difference. In this day of so much electronic communication, it’s easy to dismiss something as “old-fashioned” as a letter. And if you don’t feel comfortable with saying a lot, a card will be better. There is such a wealth of choices out there, whether you want beautiful or something cute. It doesn’t take long and you might be surprised at what a difference it makes.