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Five Conversations to Have with your Parents and Elders During the Pandemic: A Guide for the Sandwich Generation

Life has suddenly changed, and your loved ones over 60 are most at risk. It’s never easy to be in a sandwich generation, especially during a pandemic!

There are several important conversations you probably want to start having with your aging parents and elders during the pandemic, sooner rather than later. But don’t worry, you don’t need to cover these topics in one sitting. Instead, it’s best to have a series of conversations over time.

1. Staying Safe

Are you struggling with the ultimate role reversal from when you were a teenager? If your parents are going about their regular lives, resisting your advice about being more careful right now, you’re not alone.

But it’s not just about being careful. There are two primary areas where we need to balance competing priorities:

  • Safety vs. Independence
    As people age they hold on to their independence, a primary value in our society. The question for each of us is, ultimately, how much independence are you willing to sacrifice in order to stay safe? After you discuss the options, as long as they have the mental capacity to do what’s in their own best interest, give parents the latitude to decide how much they’re willing to give up in order to stay safe.
  • Quantity of Life vs. Quality of Life
    Instead of focusing solely on keeping your parents alive, remember also to focus on creating the best quality of life for the longest time possible. Quantity of life is not everything. Is it really better to sacrifice the very things that make life worth living in order to stay alive?

There is no way to keep any of us completely ‘safe’, including your parents, no matter how hard you try. Share your concerns and remind them why their continued presence matters to you. Then, respect the choices your parents make.

2. Mental and Physical Health

Do your parents need someone to help with basic needs like food and medications? Are they relatively independent? Even from afar you can help meet their needs by working with them to develop a plan.

  • Check in by phone or video daily to see how they’re doing, what they’re eating, how they’re sleeping, what kind of movement they’ve engaged in that day, etc.
  • Introduce them to connections and activities available online, including video dinner dates, museum visits, theater, and picnics by the sea.
  • Isolation and depression are big risks. Encourage them to go outside and to interact with others in safe ways.
    Activities and rituals help them feel vibrant and alive.
  • Give them tips to stay safe financially, as scammers are skilled at preying on their enhanced fears, particularly in this climate.
3. Strengthening Relationships

Last Christmas my friend was nervously telling me about the family gathering she had planned. “I’m afraid we will all die off without ever having meaningful conversations.”

Now is the perfect time to have the conversations you’ve always wanted to have with your parents. You have an opportunity to ask questions and invite deeper conversations. Draw out their stories, their proudest moments and biggest regrets. Ask how this compares to other crisis times they’ve lived through. If you knew you only had a week left with your loved ones, what would you want to talk about?

4. Essential Boring Stuff

If your parents don’t have their affairs in order, you’re the one who will pay the price when something happens. Since they are aging parents during a pandemic, now is a good time to start those conversations. The estate planning documents parents need depend on their situation. At a minimum, every adult should have:

  • A Will
  • Power of Attorney
  • Healthcare Directives
  • Universal HIPAA Release

Without the HIPAA release, if a loved one over 18 lands in a hospital you may not even be allowed to talk to the doctors.

Some parents may also need:

  • A Living Trust, especially if they own real estate, which otherwise has to go through probate

Get contact information for their key neighbors and friends in case you have trouble reaching them. Find out where your parents keep their important records, including bank statements and real estate records.

While everyone is a bit concerned about money these days, more than likely your parents have the resources to take care of important planning. Now is an ideal time, when taking care of ourselves and keeping ourselves safe is on everyone’s mind.

The ‘Mortality’ Conversation (cue scary music)

Having your parents at risk is scary. It jolts you into the reality that we are all going to die eventually, including your parents.

You get to decide how you want to show up for that journey. You can fight it, or you can decide to accept mortality as a part of life, letting it be the inspiration for living fully now, while you can.

Whenever it comes – and I hope it’s still a long way off -- many people find that the final months, weeks, or days of life are the most meaningful and rich of their entire lives, especially when they’ve prepared for it and are confident that the ‘boring’ details are well under control.

Chances are your parents have accepted the temporary nature of life and are hesitant to bring it up because they don’t want to scare you. Talking about it with you will bring them great comfort. You can use this conversation to become a little less afraid of your own mortality as well.

Where to Start?

Anywhere you start is fine, just focus on building trust as you go.

For a specific list of questions to ask your parents, tips, activity ideas, links and resources, I’ve created a free download, A Guide to Planning with Parents and Elders During the Pandemic, which you can download as my gift.

What do your parents want you to know? Even though they are aging parents during a pandemic, they will be okay. They’ve lived lives that are full and rich and span many decades. What they want most now is for you to be safe and happy. These conversations and a little planning will help assure that everyone feels more confident and at ease.

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