On Listening

I heard a story the other day, and it's a story that we hear all too often. It goes something like this. Grandma is in hospice, and the end is approaching. One of the the hospice workers gently asks if she's given any thought to how things will be handled when she dies. "Oh yes, my son knows exactly what I want." Well good, that piece is in place. When the time does comes, the worker looks to the son to see how mom wanted this handled. The trouble is, the son has a blank look on his face. "Mom never said a word!"

This is usually told as a cautionary tale about the need for families to manage these things and to be sure to find out what our family members really want for themselves, to have that hard conversation with mom. The implication is that mom assumed that son, having known her all his life, would just know what was wanted. The son should have elicited the information before it was too late.

After rolling this around in my head for a while, I had another idea. Maybe mom thinks son knows all about her wishes because she did tell him, or at least she tried to tell him. Picture this scene. Son comes by for a Sunday afternoon visit, mom approaches the subject with something like "When I pass I want..." And son jumps in to reassure mom, "Oh, mom, you're not going to die." Poor mom, living alone, depressed...

What just happened? Mom tried to have a difficult talk, and son didn't hear her. She said it, but he missed the message. No wonder she thought he knew what was wanted!

It can be an awkward conversation, no doubt. But it will go a whole lot better if we are listening when they are talking.

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