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Written by: Rebecca Johnston
on 17th January 2014
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“Conversation is the fundamental unit of change. If you change the conversation, then there’s every chance you’ll change everything that surrounds it,” Janine Waldman.

I attended a thought provoking session led by Janine this week, which really helped me re-frame a challenge staring us all in the face – how to open a dialogue about the latter phase of our lives and of the lives of our parents and grandparents.

It is a topic wracked with guilt, fear and anguish. It is a topic that is addressed when we cannot ignore it any longer. It is a topic with history, when somebody else we loved ended up in a care home and we’ve never forgiven ourselves for our role in it. It is a topic where most people predict only one, dreaded outcome – seeing out our final days in institutional care.

Little wonder it leads to the typical ‘fight or flight’ response, where decisions are made hastily, or put off until there is no longer a decision to make. In short, it is a topic that is viewed as a problem. At what other point in our lives do we consider our futures with such dread?

Yet the world is changing dramatically. The typical 75 year old has more wealth than their parents ever had, has better health and has very different aspirations for life. They have lived the majority of their lives as consumers and the choices in every aspect of their lives appear endless. So why does this appear to end when thinking about the latter phase of life?

Well, it’s typically very uncomfortable for everybody who should be in the conversation. For those who are 75, they fiercely protect their independence and their right to choice, yet they never want to become a burden to their children. For the children, they want the very best for their parents, yet the demands of modern life place unbearable strains on the family network. For everybody, there is the financial strain and the mistaken belief that there are no attractive options available. It’s
incredibly emotive and challenging.

If we changed the conversation, would that change our reality?

Instead of framing the conversation in terms of the “problem of mum” and what we can do to look after her, have it framed by mum about how she can wring every possible bit of joy, love and companionship from the final phase of her life.

Still an incredibly emotive topic because it raises the spectre of death, yet the conversation becomes so much richer and the focus shifts to the possibilities for life. Now that is a conversation worth having!

John Handley, Evermore Business Culture Director

Follow John @johnfh1964

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