Seize the Day, Seed Tomorrow: Conversations with Parents

Sometimes a “last conversation” with a parent is a very profound moment, but isn’t it a shame to let things go for so long? 

Most of us resist thinking about the death of parents until we are forced to face it. But as we age, our parents age, and with each passing day, the need to let them go impinges on our awareness. Both dreaded and unspoken, our feelings of uneasiness increase. How will we will get through it? Everybody does, though it is never easy. 

Of course, some parent-child relationships are conflictual.  Parents and children may be estranged from each other. Some folks may even wish to be rid of their parents for good. The truth is, though, the death of a parent doesn’t guarantee freedom for the offspring; in fact, the fulfillment of such wishful thinking may make grief very complicated.

In the final moments, families often have powerful conversations. And these conversations can be very helpful as life and death come into close proximity. Connecting on this level may allow the parent to let go, and the child to feel permitted to keep going to live life fully.

Traversing the end of life with a parent ideally includes a series of conversations. With some time and space these conversations can help everyone build an understanding about the mutuality of love within the relationship, and to accept both the positive and painful circumstances that occurred throughout the years. At this juncture, there is a chance for recognition and peace. 

But could there be even more?  Why wait until the final moments to have these conversations or to reflect on remarkable moments with our parents? What if we could find time now to be more appreciative and communicative?  What if we went a little out of our way to spend more time with our parents? What if we didn’t just agree to show up for the big events like the milestone birthdays or anniversaries? It seems wiser to seize the moments we have rather than wait until we are almost out of them.  

So, what can you do to change the course of your relationship? Create meaningful moments with your folks and purposefully enjoy the bond that exists between you. Be sure to express these things along the way! You can take the time to engage in conversations about who you are to your parents, who they are to you, about the significance of your relationship with each other, with family, and the many adventures you have shared. These conversations will be treasured and remembered forever, the intimacy and love internalized far beyond the moment.

Though my own father died when I was a young man, early to be losing a parent, we were fortunate to have had several deep conversations that at the time seemed simply natural. At the time I felt they were satisfying conversations, but I had no idea how defining they would become. They provided closure and afforded me the opportunity to feel greater peace after his death than I ever would have imagined.  There wasn’t much left unsaid, and I feel grateful for that, even two decades later. I was fortunate to be able to internalize our connection.

Here’s another example: Meet Matt, an individual psychotherapy client who brought his mother in for a session one day. The intention was to have his mother clarify her expectations for him about caring for his ill brother and thereby relieve some of his burden. It was a magical meeting. The power of their relationship was shining this particular day. Matt’s mother told him that he had done enough and that it was important for him to live his own life now, instead of assuming the responsibility for his brother. 

Even more powerful, however, Matt and his mother spoke about their relationship with each other and how they both had experienced this bond so profoundly. They had simply never discussed it before! They beamed with love and respect for each other.  I was beaming too!

A couple of years later, Matt’s mother died rather quickly after a brief illness. It was difficult, yet the conversation that they had in my office that day served as a defining moment for them. Even with her death, though he missed her terribly, Matt felt truly whole based on the love he had been able to internalize.

Maybe bringing your mother or father into therapy isn’t feasible, but the point is the quality of the content of the conversation that took place between Matt and his mother not the venue. Maybe it’s time for you to drop the status quo of the same old communication. Here are some ideas:

  • Go out of your way to have both pleasant and difficult conversations with your parents. Yes, it is easier to avoid these moments, but instead pick up the phone and push yourself. You won’t regret it in the long run!
  • Make it a point to notice when ordinary moments are more than ordinary. When a conversation or family visit is enjoyable, pause to reflect on the significance of the interaction. Just take the time and make the effort to notice and appreciate it. 
  • Strategize about delving into some of the differences between you and your parents. Have a goal in mind. Run things by a friend, mentor, or therapist in order to map out a productive plan. For some, the goal may be to achieve some kind of reconciliation, whereas for others it may feel okay to let go of expectations so that fresh space can open up for something new to come in. 
  • Enjoy today with your parents rather than assuming there will be an endless number of tomorrows. Your parents may not be going anywhere soon, but still you can take hold of each moment together. How easy it is in our busy world to keep putting off connection — a habit that leads to regret!

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