We’ve already looked at why it is valuable to talk to your senior loved ones about spirituality, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy conversation to start. It doesn’t need to be awkward—and it’s less likely to be that way if you come from the perspective that you want to learn from your elder. If they understand that, it’s easier for them to relax into the conversation, but it also helps to show how much you value them in your life.
Here are a few ways to begin:
Give it time. Sometimes, the best conversations we have are those that start on one topic and just flow into others. That means that you have to allow time in your life and make room for these deeper conversations. If you don’t already, make an effort to schedule time—just for the sake of spending time—with your elderly loved one. That means that you aren’t focusing on day-to-day tasks or rushing off to an appointment.
Honor the Legacy. Everyone leaves something behind after they pass on. For some, it’s an obvious thing, like the wing of a library or an act that affected many people. For most, it’s subtler, but no less powerful. Our families will remember us and the roles that we’ve played in their lives. They will especially remember things we told them in the form of stories or even lessons. It’s important to acknowledge that our senior loved ones do have a legacy to pass on and talking to them about it can lead to conversations about spirituality. Ask questions like these:
- What did you learn when your were my age?
- What was your greatest lesson in life?
- What qualities about yourself do you wish to pass on?
- Are there family stories I don’t know?
- What do you want me to learn from life?
Record the Family History. Many of us want to know where and who we came from. In older, more traditional cultures, the family history was passed from generation to generation through the oral telling of stories. It still happens in some cultures today, but less and less. Unless someone in your family takes the time to write it down, some of your history (if not all) will become lost. Asking your elder loved one to share what they know of your history can help you to understand how you interact with the world and why you are where you are today. And, for them, it opens a door to:
- Make sense of their own history
- Examine their spirituality more closely
- Heal old wounds
Create a Photo Album or Scrap Book. Chances are, your senior loved one has a box of photos or news clippings stuffed in a closet somewhere. Take that box out, dust it off and work together to arrange them in a book that they can share and enjoy. Photos and clippings will help them to remember times in their lives and share the lessons or wisdom they gained from those times.
Ask About Church. While one does not have to be religious to be spiritual, if you know that your loved one attended church at one time, or is currently involved in a church, ask them about it. Touch on subjects like:
- Activities sponsored by the church
- How they feel about that community
- What they get from it
- If they want to be more involved
If you start with these few tips, you might find yourself surprised and enlightened by what your loved ones have to share.