Virtue Vibes with Jarrod Blair

#12: How to Make Your Elderly Parents Miserable

November 15, 2023 Jarrod Blair Episode 12
Virtue Vibes with Jarrod Blair
#12: How to Make Your Elderly Parents Miserable
Show Notes Transcript

How can we make our elderly parents miserable? Yup, you read that right. In their last few years here on earth, what can we say and do to our parents that will really make them feel lonely, helpless, and depressed. How can we talk in a way that leaves them feeling isolated, even in a room full of people? What can we do to make them feel completely useless and disconnected? And how can we leave them to face one of life’s hardest challenges, death, on their own? 

And for those listeners who would rather make their elderly parents feel loved, connected, and understood, I'll throw in some closing comments...

Outro music: "Forest Lullaby" by Lesfm on Pixabay

Intro music: "Lofi Heavy Chill Bass & Keyboard" by Phill Dillow on Pixabay

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Hello again, welcome back to the Virtue Vibes Podcast. I’m your host, Jarrod Blair, and I’m super excited to be back! It’s been a little while since I last released an episode, and I want to apologize for not communicating ahead of time that new episode releases would be delayed. I had some health issues come up, but I’m feeling good now and ready to get back to it. And just in case you were worried, I want to reassure you that I have no intention of stopping this podcast any time soon, and I plan to be releasing new episodes well into the future. There’s just so many interesting ethical questions to talk about! Ya know?  

So with that being said, let’s get into today’s topic. Today, we’re going to talk about how to make your elderly parents miserable. Yup, you heard that right. In their last few years here on earth, what can we say and do to our parents that will really make them feel lonely, helpless, and depressed. How can we talk in a way that leaves them feeling isolated, even in a room full of people? What can we do to make them feel completely useless and disconnected? And how can we leave them to face one of life’s hardest challenges, death, on their own? 

This episode is primarily about elderly parents, since this is the most common relationship people will have with an elderly person in their last years, but much of the advice given here can be used to make any other elderly person you might know miserable. There’s plenty to go around.  

Also, some of my listeners might not want to make their elderly parents miserable, and instead would rather make them feel loved, understood, and connected, for some reason. So... I guess I’ll throw in some closing comments for people like you, so stick around.  

Alright, so that’s the plan. Let’s jump into a few strategies for making your elderly parents miserable.  

 

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The first strategy is quite well known, which is this: Once your elderly parents are unable to do things for you, stop visiting, stop calling, and stop reaching out to them. Once they are too old and weak to be able to host family gatherings or babysit your kids, and once you no longer need their financial support because you’ve made in far enough in your own career, and once you have a thriving family of your own to provide emotional support, forget about your parents completely. Throw them to the curb. This way they will feel that they are no longer valuable and have nothing left to offer the world.  

And I don’t just mean simply lowering visits and calls, which would be understandable given your increasing work and family obligations. I mean nothing, nada, zilch. That's how you really hurt them.  

But if you are going to visit or talk, at least don’t be the one who initiates anything. Let them always be the one to reach out to you, so that over time they develop a suspicion that you’re only engaging with them out of obligation rather than desire.  

The one exception to all of this, of course, is when it comes time to discuss any financial inheritance you might receive. When the will is being written up, show up out of nowhere and really make it obvious that you're only there for the check.  

Now, ceasing to visit or call your elderly parents isn’t the only way to leave them feeling disconnected and alone. You can also accomplish this even when you are visiting and talking to them. The trick is to avoid personal and meaningful conversations, and to keep things as shallow as possible. During family gatherings, give them a forced smile and ask a couple of generic small talk questions, and then proceed to talk at breakneck speeds with the rest of the family so that your elderly parents won’t comprehend a thing.  Whatever you do, don’t slow down your pace of conversation or have personal, meaningful, and bonding conversations with your elderly parents. Instead, view them as a relic, an ancient object to be taken care of, but one that couldn’t possibly relate to you. Doing these things will ensure that they feel a lack of genuine connection in their final years.  

 

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Another way to make your elderly parents miserable is to take away anything that would give them a sense of purpose in their days. This includes small things, like making sure there are no plants or animals under their care. You also want to take away any projects they used to enjoy, like woodworking, painting, knitting, cooking, etc. And most importantly, you want to take away any social roles that provide meaning. For example, make sure that they can't get involved in any church groups, book clubs, or volunteering efforts. Make sure they don’t play much of a role in raising their grandchildren. Never seek out their advice or perspectives. And in general, make sure that they don’t play an important role in the extended family network. Doing these things will leave them feeling that the only purpose left for them here on Earth is to wait around and die.  

And speaking of death, let’s talk about one last strategy for making your elderly parents miserable, which is this; whenever your elderly parent tries to talk about their own death, and shares their fears or sorrow about it, shut them down immediately. Really make them feel bad for trying to process through their death with you. Tell them not to think about it, and only have happy thoughts. Encourage them to pretend that death is not around the corner, and make it seem like a weakness of will for them to acknowledge it. This will encourage them to bottle up all of their fears and sorrows and to face the prospect of death alone, with nobody to mourn with them.  

And besides, letting them process through their own death with you could be uncomfortable and awkward for you, and we wouldn’t want that. In the grand scheme of things, what’s most important is that you don’t feel any discomfort as your elderly parents struggle with their own mortality.  

 

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In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been being insincere, and this episode so far has been very tongue-in-cheek. I don’t really mean most of what I’ve said, but I’m going to give it to you straight now. In fact, I don’t think you should try to make your elderly parents miserable, and I don’t think you should follow any of the advice I’ve given so far to do so. So don’t worry, I haven’t gone off the deep end, at least not recently.  

I also think that most people don’t want their elderly parents to be miserable, and instead would want their parents’ last years to be happy ones. However, I do think that a lot of their behavior is exactly as I’ve described; as if they were trying to make their elderly parents miserable. So you can think of the advice I’ve given so far as being exactly what NOT to do.  

So try not to stop visiting or calling your parents in their final years, and instead make an effort to be a part of their lives, and to take care of them just like they (hopefully) took care of you as a child. It’s also important to sometimes be the one who initiates these interactions, rather than just responding to their requests, so that they can feel that you actually want to be there. Also, it’s totally understandable if work and family responsibilities give some limit to these visits, let’s be realistic. It’s also true that elderly parents can become overly demanding of time and attention at times. People who have lost many of their friends and family through the years and who also don’t have as many demands on their time can become like that. So you have to decide what you think is a reasonable amount of time for you to spend with your parents, and then encourage your siblings and anyone else in your tribe to do the same. Many hands makes light work, and you can prevent your interactions from feeling too burdensome if you have a tiny community of family and friends all contributing to caring for your elderly parents.  

Secondly, when you are visiting your elderly parents, slow down, look them in the eyes, and try to have a genuine conversation with them. It’s so easy to fall into shallow, repetitive, and disingenuous patterns of communicating with people, which is why it’s so life-giving and refreshing when someone talks to you in an honest and genuine way. These conversations are key for making people feel deeply connected, so try it out on your elderly parents sometime, and for that matter, anyone else you’d like to get closer to. That one’s on the house.  

Thirdly, try to find ways to help your elderly parents hold onto things that give them a sense of purpose. As a small example, taking care of a small plant or a low maintenance pet can help. My grandparents, who are in their mid 90s, have a turtle that they feed lettuce and some occasional plants to water. As a bigger example, consider projects that they love that might still be feasible. My 94 year old grandpa spends much of his days out in his workshop doing woodwork, and thinking of ways to make tiny doohickeys and doodads, like shelfs and mini tables. I think this hobby has really helped the longevity of both his mind and body. However, the most important way to provide a sense of purpose would be their continued role in the family, and if possible any other larger social activities, like church or other community meetups.  

Lastly, try to remain open to talking about death with your elderly parents. I know it can be quite uncomfortable, but I think it’s super helpful for them to be able to talk about their fears or sadness with loved ones. Death is one of the hardest things we all have to face in life, and having someone who is willing to process through it with you can truly help your emotional state in those final years.   

If you want to dig into this topic some more, I’d suggest reading a book called Being Mortal, written by Atul Gawande. He’s a doctor who investigates various flaws in the way our society deals with dying elderly people. And thanks so much for tuning in to this episode of Virtue Vibes! We’ll see you soon.