Carol Bradley Bursack, Published September 28 2008
Press elders for comments’ true meaningDear Readers: One of the rewards of what I do is that I learn so much from readers.
I was talking with Anna, a woman who is both a reader and a friend. She’s been having a tough time because her in-laws, whom she dearly loves, are both having health problems. The whole family has been struggling, as most of us do when faced with the reality of an elder’s final journey.
Anna is intuitive and has a huge heart. She often amazes me with her innate wisdom. As we were chatting, she told me a story about her mother-in-law, who is in a nursing home and will soon be under hospice care. Her mother-inlaw has a very painful cancer. When Anna asked her how she was feeling, her mother-in-law said in that off-hand way we’ve come to expect, “I can’t complain.”
How often have we heard that from our elders, especially those of us who grew up in this area, where pulling one’s self up by the bootstraps, biting the bullet, not putting people out and other such nonsense is a way of life?
Anna, fortunately, didn’t buy it. She said very sweetly to her mother-in-law, “Well, what would you complain about if you could complain?”
As I listened to Anna, I thought, “Brilliant! Most of us would have just let that slide by.”
Anna’s mother-in-law then quietly answered, “Pain.” Anna followed that by asking where the pain was on a scale of one to 10, which is the scale often used by medical people. She then went to work to try to get better pain management for this wonderful woman she is watching slip away.
The lesson I learned from our talk is that we need to listen closely to our elders’ answers to such questions such as “How are you feeling today?”
Little clichés we are used to hearing from our parents and grandparents can easily slip by us when, if we were really listening to them, we may be able to gently ask them to elaborate. We may find, if we listen to the tone behind the words, that they need help. We can then try to get them help.
If they are too proud to ask for help, we need to be their advocates. But first, we need to really hear what they are saying. We need to hear what is behind the words. We may need to shine up our listening skills and truly pay attention, not only to words but body language and tone of voice.
I also think we need to start talking with our elders early. We need to explain that this is no time for bullet-biting. There is help for their pain, but they have to articulate it.
We all know people who love to complain. That’s a whole different issue. But if you have an elder who is apt to underplay pain issues, press a little harder to see where the pain level is. You may be able to help more, if you listen harder.
Hospice Journeying Home Events: “Final Journeys,” 7:30 p.m. Oct. 14 is free and open to the public. “Final Gifts, Final Journeys,” 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 15 requires a registration fee. Both events will be held at the Ramada Plaza Suites, 1635 42nd St. S., Fargo. For registration information, call (800) 237-4629 or go to www.hrrv.org and click on programs and events.
Bursack is the author of a support book on family
elder care. To submit questions to “Minding Our
Elders” and view past columns, go to www.inforum.com and click on columnists. Readers can reach Bursack at email@example.com or write her at The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.