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What Do I Say?

Recently a family member reached out to me for some guidance about talking to his mother. During visits she has begun to get sad and tearful, expressing to him that she’s not able to do what she used to do, sees her health declining, and is struggling with the changes in herself that are a normal part of aging.

Being a good son, he did what most of us would normally do during a conversation like this. He changed the subject, tried to point out positive things coming up on the calendar for her to look forward to, and didn’t spend much time talking about the negative changes she’s going through. It’s a normal reaction for anyone who is a positive-minded person- ‘don’t dwell on the negative, focus on the positive’. But that didn’t seem to be working.

Instead, I offered him a different tactic to try out. I encouraged him to acknowledge exactly what his mom was saying, name the feeling that she’s having, and champion her for how she’s handling things. So, in this case, his responses to her would be more along the lines of “Mom, I hear you. It must be so hard to know that you can’t do the things that once were so easy to accomplish. I can imagine that makes you really sad, and sometimes depressed. Your feelings make sense to me, Mom, I get it. I’ll be anyone in your position would feel this way. At the same time, Mom, I see how you are facing all of this with an amazing spirit. You get up every day and fight the good fight, you always manage to smile when you see people, and I know for a fact that you never ever miss an exercise class. Your determination is so inspiring to me, Mom. Not everyone has the strength of character that you show every single day.’

Someone once said that all any of us want is to be heard. It’s as if we’re all walking through this world with an index card on our foreheads that says ‘Do you see me?’ And though we DO see each other, and we DO hear our aging parents and friends, we often forget to acknowledge what we see and hear. By taking the time to acknowledge, name the feeling, and champion, you can make a difference in the day of someone you love.