Does your aging parent lapse into stories at the drop of a hat? And does he or she repeat the same ones again and again, in great detail?
Grandpa Jake certainly does. When he tells of receiving his first pony, a Shetland named Bill, on his fourth birthday, he travels back in time. From that day on, Jake and his pony were inseparable. "A silly name for a horse," Jack recalls. "Lightening would have been better."
Jake has told this--and other stories--so many times that his family is not only bored; they're worried. Do repeated stories signal dementia? Or an unnatural drawing inward that is unhealthy?
Not so, says David Solie, author of "How to Say It To Seniors." He contends repeated stories are a vehicle for completing a key developmental task: the building of a legacy.
At the end of life, people want to be remembered for their time on earth and cherished by future generations, Solie says. They review the happenings of their lives and consider how those events figure into the way they want to be remembered.
That's where the repeated stories come in. And the detailed rendering of the events, Solie says. More important than the facts are the underlying values--building bricks of their legacy.
In Grandpa Jake's story, the thrill of receiving his horse may have explained his value of gratitude--both as a child during the Depression, and during the rest of his life. A lifelong love of animals may have caused Jack to repeat the horse story again and again. As the story is repeated, other life values may surface, evident to him and his family.
Bottom line: When our aging parents repeat stories, they are in the process of creating a legacy. We need to listen respectfully not just for the facts but for possible themes.
"Tell a similar story from your own life," Solie also suggests.
Connection is everything.
Does a senior in your life tell the same stories again and again?