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Rebuilding Relationships with Estranged Seniors
As seniors age, the stresses of life can become increasingly difficult to manage. They’re losing loved ones. They’re facing medical issues. They’re experiencing the loneliness of retirement. Seniors can become estranged from family members by distance, or because of who they were when they were younger.
It may be that the holidays are rolling around, or that there’s a wedding coming up, and you expect to see them again soon. If there’s a chance of reconciliation, you may want to make the effort to reach out, because people do change and often seniors will want to make amends as they near the end of life.
Little Teether presents the following tips that can help you repair a relationship you thought was lost forever.
Losing communication with a loved one can come with painful consequences. There may have been lies, increased agitation and irritability that lead to hurt feelings. The loneliness that follows a relationship’s disintegration can make things worse. They may lash out and they will likely remember things differently than you do. You’ll have to be open, you’ll need to be a good listener, you may have to affirm their version of events, even if they don’t match your own, and you will likely have some difficult conversations.
- Open up the lines of communication - Many seniors use Facebook, which isn’t really the best place for the kinds of conversations you’ll need to have, but it might be a good way to simply drop a line to tell them to watch for an email or to set up a phone call or a call with a video phone app like Zoom. Meeting in a video chat for the first time can get you used to seeing each other and talking one-on-one without the pressure of an actual get-together.
- Be honest - If you’ve made mistakes, own them. Don’t make excuses. Instead, state clearly how you wronged them. Saying, for example, you lied because of how your loved one would react, puts the ownership on them, not you. Instead say, “I lied because I was too afraid to tell the truth.”
- Say you’re sorry - Once you’ve admitted your mistakes, don’t forget to apologize. Being able to say “sorry” is one of the key components to relationship repair.
- Actively work to keep the relationship strong - Once you’ve made amends, the burden should be on you to actively work on sustaining the relationship. Reach out a week or two after you’ve apologized and ask for a lunch date or another opportunity to get together.
Seniors can be difficult, but it doesn’t mean they won’t open up if they’ve got a good reason. Reconnecting with an estranged senior family member who is now living in a nursing home can be a meaningful and rewarding experience. While it may be difficult to overcome past conflicts or misunderstandings, taking the first step towards reconciliation can help both parties heal and move forward. Visiting your loved one regularly, listening to their stories and sharing your own experiences can help rebuild trust and strengthen your bond. It's also important to keep in mind that adjusting to life in a nursing home can be challenging for seniors, so providing emotional support and offering to assist with practical tasks such as organizing their room or accompanying them on outings may also help foster a sense of connection.
It may be that the reason for reaching out is that you’ve got kids now and you’ve felt guilty about keeping a grandparent from them. As Parents.com makes clear, your instinct is to protect your kids, and you’ve got to trust your gut, but it’s possible that your estranged parent can have a better relationship with your kids than they did with you. They very likely won’t have as much influence over your kids, and so even though there is the possibility your kids can get hurt, you can be clear about boundaries.
If your relationship is so damaged that you’ve been estranged from a senior parent, it’s possible you’ll need to enlist help repairing it. There are family therapists who specialize in different scenarios that may be relevant to your situation. For example, if the estrangement is the result of divorce, there’s a therapist for that. If the estrangement is the result of addiction, that’s a very different situation and a different kind of therapy. The point is to have an objective neutral party present who knows your history and can mediate reconciliation, someone experienced with that kind of work who can also be on guard against triggering situations or language.
People really can change. According to Mayo Clinic, forgiveness isn’t just good for the forgiven, it’s good for us too. Nothing worth doing is easy, and you may find that your estranged family member is willing to do the work to make things right too.
Emily Graham @