By Linda Bernstein, NextAvenue.org
“I felt guilty every day of my life that I was able to have children and Lilly wasn’t,” my 80-year-old mother confided, quietly, more than a little choked up.
Lilly was Mom’s older, much beloved cousin whose lack of offspring had always been a matter of whispered speculation among the relatives of my generation. There was talk of a botched abortion, something that would have been positively scandalous in 1940. Even when “the kids” grew up, it would not have been divulged.
My mother wasn’t revealing a family secret. It wasn’t the reason for Lilly’s childless state that was troubling her. She was sharing with me a feeling that had haunted her for decades. What could I say that would be helpful? I pondered that a moment before I opened my mouth.
I said what I knew to be true: “You adored Lilly. All of us kids loved her, too. I’m sure she knew how much you cared about her.”
For our elderly parents, “getting their house in order” often involves more than consulting with a tax attorney or an estate planner, says Ken Druck, author of The Real Rules of Life. As people age, many reach a stage where they are no longer concerned that we will judge them, so they confide feelings that remained unvoiced for years. “There comes a point where they feel intimate enough with us as adults that they can share unknown truths about their emotional lives,” Druck says.
Seeing Parents in a New Light
These conversations have the potential to help us see our parents in a new light and forge a deeper connection with them. The trick, of course, is knowing how to respond to door-opening revelations that may shake us a bit.
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