In “De-Mystifying
Vicky-D\’s” in the October NABBW newsletter, you learned
how the Vicky-D\’s\’ generational experiences, attitudes
and values created their expectations today. However, generational
values and attitudes are only part of the equation.

As you might
imagine, for Vicky-D\’s facing major life issues such as old
age, declining health, death of a spouse and/or friends, fear of
being destitute and homeless, fear of losing independence and control,
or the fear of dependency – or not having anyone to depend
on, this an extremely emotional time.

Emotions reinforce
and amplify our core values and generational attitudes – who each
of us is on a basic, fundamental level. While we can learn
to be different, when we\’re caught up in an emotional situation,
our generational attitudes and values are our fall-back position.
For example, someone who has learned to be more comfortable spending
money, may revert to obsessive penny-pinching when emotional; someone
who has learned to be more open to discussing personal things such
as money and health, may withdraw and be guarded or secretive when
emotional; and similarly, someone who has learned to be selective
in what they keep, may revert to hoarding when emotional.

Adult children
who try to help their aging loved ones with something – even
something as seemingly innocuous as accepting in-home help –
often find themselves crashing into a wall of resistance, and/or
emotions that are dramatically out of proportion to what would “normally”
be considered appropriate to the situation. Surprised, confused,
angry, hurt, or frustrated themselves, many family members will
just drop the subject until there\’s a crisis usually requires
more significant (and expensive) action.

However, when
someone anticipates and grieves a loss that hasn\’t happened
yet – and possibly never will – they are going through
what I call “pre-grieving”. Much like a husband who
experiences all the symptoms of his wife\’s pregnancy, pre-grieving
is going through the grieving process as if the dreaded event is
actually happening to them.

What makes this
so difficult for family members to identify and understand is that…

  • people respond
    to the same information in different ways so there is no way to
    predict what an individual will pre-grieve
  • Family members
    can avoid crashing into this emotional wall by being aware of the
    5 general stages of pre-grieving (based on Elisabeth Kubler Ross\’
    model).

    To Help:
    Their resistance is about emotion and fear. Trying to force them
    to face “reality” at this stage may only make it worse.
    Focus instead on being supportive and understanding and validating
    what your loved one may be feeling.

    To Help:
    These are difficult and emotional times for you, too. But to be
    able to help, it\’s important not to get drawn in to their
    emotion. Avoid escalating the emotional pitch by making a conscious
    decision to modify your own behavior and communication style. Their
    anger isn\’t about you, so as difficult as it may be, stay
    focused on what you\’re doing and why. If you see an argument
    starting, don\’t buy into it. Rather, change the subject, go
    for a walk, change the subject, etc.

    To Help:
    Stay connected and closely monitor your loved one; listen to what
    they\’re saying and how they\’re saying it – rather
    than what/how it\’s making you feel. If you believe they\’re
    “pre-grieving”, this depression and detachment may indicate
    that the reality of the situation is setting in. If you\’re
    not sure if this is a stage of pre-grieving, talk to a professional.
    Either way, they need you now more than ever so hang in there!

    To Help:
    Don\’t worry about arriving at a solution – at this
    stage it\’s more important to keep the lines of communication
    open. Emphasize your desire to help – not take over or control.
    Ask questions (rather than trying to convince them) and resist being
    critical of alternatives they present.

    Understanding
    who your aging loved one is generationally and emotionally is important
    as you help them help themselves during this often challenging time.
    But it\’s even more important to know who they are
    as unique individuals. I hope that this information helps you on
    that journey! Enjoy!