We don’t often associate forgiveness with aging, but forgiveness is an essential component of end-of-life resolution, care, and decision making. This is an especially important issue if you are part of the millions who count yourself a member of a dysfunctional family.
Defining dysfunction is not necessary, you know when you are living in the midst of it.
For the dysfunctional aging family, many issues aren’t easily resolved; The family has likely lived this way for generations. Generation after generation, family members typically remain at war with each other. The roots of dysfunction run deep and wide. One very important factor missing in the dysfunctional family is nurturance. Parental neglect and abuse are frequent in the history of the dysfunctional family…Mental illness, addictions, poor communication, and deep emotional damage are synonymous as well.
So you ask what does this have to do with aging? It has everything to do with the interactions and decisions family members need to make as they balance decision making, against emotional angst they feel for loved ones. Imagine a family member who was raised by unfit or abusive parent/s who is now asked to care for parents who did not care for them? This is where forgiveness plays a crucial role. Forgiveness opens the portal that paves the way for the ability to render nurturing care to an aging parent.
In the dysfunctional family, resolving hurt and healing emotional wounds is important for adult children who need to come to terms with the changing roles of the parent/child relationship. Un-forgiven hurts and wounds gouged in childhood, can hold adult children back from this developmental stage. These negative emotions will undoubtedly affect how midlife siblings work together to care for their aging parent and how they communicate during crisis.
In my role as client advocate, I sometimes encounter the impact of dysfunctional family situations. This is not always immediately apparent, but as trust is built in the relationship, it becomes clear that I am dealing with a family with layered and dysfunctional issues. My recommendation is often to seek help from other professionals so we can approach the situation from a multidisciplinary perspective. These complicated and unpredictable situations complicate the care planning process. As a health care professional, we have to work through the emotions to get a clear picture of the needs of the patient . The challenge for the health care professional is to not only be prepared to work with the dysfunctional family, but to have a tool kit of resources to help the families embrace forgiveness as an option.
Forgiveness is not easy, and depending on how deep the wound, professional help could be essential. Once recognized as a problem or a road block, caregivers should seek ways of healing in order to become a better caregiver. Change is one of the hardest things we face as human beings but forgiveness is the path to change. Forgiveness can bring siblings together. It can help adult children who were violated in the past to help flawed aging parents who need them. “Forgiveness is a time traveler that moves aging family members, frozen in the past, into the present”(Cress, 2009).
Additional resources on forgiveness: