Her hair was disheveled, which was unusual for her. The mini stroke she’d suffered after the sudden death of her longtime friend (right at the breakfast table. Put her head down and BOOM. Transitioned into whatever awaits us upon death with nary a peep) was evident in her slowed speech and inflexible fingers.

“I’m not going to be around much longer,” she informed me. I gently confirmed with a question that she was ready to move on. “Yes,” she said. “But I’ll need a perm first.”

Just the week before, a nurse at the home had expressed his dismay at the process in which the death of residents were, or were not as the case may be, handled. The body removed, the room sanitized, a new resident moving in as if the prior occupant never existed.

The movie Fried Green Tomatoes expressed this phenomenon quite provocatively when Evelyn thought Ninny, her friend at a nursing home, had passed and an aide in the room began removing all of Ninny’s personalizations. “What is the matter with you people? Can’t you wait a godamn day, for chrissake?”

I imagine this is what my friend Flo must have been considering when she told me of her plans to move on. Her dead friend’s body was removed from the home, her name never to be spoken again. What will that mean for Flo? A resident of 12 plus years, with no surviving family. I wonder if she fears her legacy will be … no legacy.

Whenever I spend time in the nursing home, I wonder similar things. But my thoughts go deeper. How can we serve the elderly more robustly? How might we understand the importance of revering this developmental stage in life? What can we do, individually and collectively to create better environments so that people might thrive? Yes, you read that right, thrive in an elderly community.

Although this can be a frightening time of life for all involved, it would serve humanity greatly if we could adopt the following as matters of course:

• Adult children aggressively finding ways to understand this developmental phase of life more thoroughly.
• Staying healthily detached from our own emotional reactions to the elderly could enable great caring to occur.
• Understand that since we have not yet experienced this phase of life, we cannot fully identify with it. However acknowledging how someone is feeling during this time can work miracles.
• Resist the temptation to view this is as role reversal. It’s not, though you will find that at times you need to accept there will be some child-like behaviors (from both of you!)
• Find ways to accept that this lovely person is changing in profound ways, and may not resemble the person of their younger days. However, I would venture a guess that you change with each passing phase as well. Just ask your kids. They’ll tell you.
• Look for the underlying feelings you are having that might be causing you to overlook and not support your elderly counterparts.

Get involved. Though not everyone will make it to elder hood, many of us will. How might you want to be regarded at this phase of life? Have you considered how it will feel when the day comes that someone else is making decisions for you? How would you like to be treated if this becomes your inevitability?

Flo was feeling more like living the next day, however questions about how she will be remembered surfaced. We talked again and with as much assurance as I could muster, I promised her I would do what I could to raise awareness.

You’ve just read one of my attempts.

Author's Bio: 

Natalie Tucker Miller is an internationally recognized certified coach, instructor and coach certifier. She is the founder of Ageless-Sages.com, a publishing company specializing in Picture Books For Elders. Additionally, she heads UnParenting.com, a company that works with parents who are looking for alternative ways to relate, educate and/or communicate with their families, their business associates and the world. Through Women in Leadership Coaching, Natalie powerfully, yet discreetly, offers her wisdom and support to parents who are embracing the joys and challenges of balancing career, family and spiritual pursuits.

From 2006-2008 Natalie served as president for the International Association of Coaching (IAC) and her monthly column related to coaching excellence in the IAC Voice, reached subscribers in 80+ countries.

Natalie has a passion for expanding the learning environment beyond traditional teaching. She shared this expansive approach when she taught early education for 15 years and when she home educated her two daughters who are now young women excelling in college. She has numerous years of experience teaching adult learners through her work with the University of Vermont, Prevent Child Abuse Vermont (PCAVT) and as an instructor at CoachVille, a coach training organization. She's currently an instructor at the School of Coaching Mastery.