I am a baby boomer which means that my mother is a member of The Greatest Generation. Like other members of that generation, my mother is up in years so that us baby boomers must now be the “parents” to our parents.
Last week, my siblings and I had to be “parents” and make a lifecycle decision for our mother. We placed her into an assisted living facility so that she would be safe and secure from her own frailities and from what life can and will throw at a very senior citizen.
Needless to say, it was a very difficult task. We were moving our mother from the only home she has known for 60 years into a new environment that she is unable to totally grasp due to the frailities that come with age. She does not understand that we are doing this to keep her safe and secure, but, rather she is scared and frightened. Her life, as she knows and can still grasp it, is being turned upside down for no “apparent” reason.
So, she was driven to her new “home” without warning, She immediately recognized what it was as we had been there many times to visit my father before he passed on. She refused to get out of the car. All of our cajoling – both that of my siblings, myself, and the staff were for naught. This scene went on for many minutes.
After awhile, one of the residents, a gentlemen with southern charm (whom I will call Mr. Jones) came out and started conversing with our mother. He explained his circumstances; how he, too, had come to be there against his better instincts, but that he had found out in the short while that he had been there, what a nice place it was: the staff was great, the other residents were friendly, there were lots of activities and things to do and in sum, everything would be fine. He implored her just to walk through the door and take a look; she did not have to stay but at least give it a chance, a try. He asked if she needed help and made it easy for her by having a wheel chair brought and positioned for her to easily get into, all the while imploring that there is no harm in just taking a “look” and seeing what was inside the front door. With Mr. Jones’ kind and sensitive words to my mother, she finally got into the wheel chair and allowed herself to be wheeled inside and take a look at her apartment.
On May 1, 2009, I wrote a blog entitled “Just a Mediator” in which I described the many roles of a mediator, the first of which is to gain the trust of the parties and help them overcome their initial fears and anxiety about even attending a mediation. The second role is to manage their emotions.
Mr. Jones did just these things. By being a resident himself, he conveyed the empathy that I, and my siblings, all baby boomers, could not. As a fellow member of the Greatest Generation, he could relate to her in ways that I and my siblings could not. He could and did use that common experience (“been there, done that”) to gain my mother’s trust and to calm her fears and anxieties about what awaited her on the other side of the front door. He attempted to manage her emotions by telling her that he, too, unwillingly left his home, did not like it one bit but understood that coming to the facility was the right thing to do. He tried to convey to her that he truly and deeply “knew” how she felt because he, too, had traveled the same “road” to arrive at this same place.
Mr. Jones’ words struck me. I remained silent and physically backed away, letting Mr. Jones use his commonality to build trust with my mother , calm her fears and anxieties, and convince her that it was okay to go inside and, at least, take a look.
I know that mediation skills are useful in everyday life, and I have often used my own life experiences to build commonality, and trust with parties, but, to see it played out with such southern charm, sincerity and empathy was something entirely else. In all of my mediation training, I have not seen these skills so well displayed and exemplified. They are skills that only a member of The Greatest Generation could have. Us baby boomers aren’t there yet.
Life is a lesson, and I just learned one.
. . . Just something to think about.