We may not realise it but there are two very important conversations that we often fail to have. First, there’s the story of our life lived – not just the major milestones, but more importantly, those memories that require a little jogging. The second is the story yet to come, the life we want to live in our old age.
Research conducted by Monash University on this subject found that those people who had these conversations, particularly the elderly, gained a sense of purpose and an increased sense of well-being, especially when it came to reflecting on their life’s achievements and accomplishments. We think we know a lot about our parents or our grandparents, but for most of us, the sharing of life stories really doesn’t happen until we become ill, are in an accident, or are well into the aging process.
We recently spoke with Jolene Hill, a former funeral director, carer, and Founder of Your Life Talks, who through her experiences in these roles found that these conversations empowered individuals and families with respecting their loved one’s choices and were able to cherish and celebrate them in the later seasons of their lives.
Your Life Talks
As a funeral director, Jolene would ask families simple questions, such as “what was your dad’s first job?” and had three adult children each offering a different answer. When Jolene’s husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he reminisced at family gatherings and despite their having been together for nearly 40 years, Jolene was amazed there was so much she didn’t know about her husband’s earlier life. Both her professional and personal experiences had Jolene questioning how often this must happen, leading her on a mission to encourage these conversations within families. This resulted in her founding, Your Life Talks to support families in sharing stories about life and what matters to them most, including aged care and end-of-life wishes.
“Reflecting on our life and talking about what we want in our future, are both conversations that don’t take place often enough. We need to be intentional…that is really the point,” Jolene explained.
Reluctance to talk about the final chapter of your life can be confronting. Elderly parents may feel they will upset their family but, as Jolene observed, avoiding the conversation doesn’t prevent the issues from surfacing.
Through her journey, Jolene found people would say it was too difficult, or that they didn’t have a good enough memory. However, she also discovered that without fail, families were always interested in the life stories of their aging parents and grandparents. Most importantly, Jolene notes, it is best to have conversations about your choices while you are able to make clear-minded decisions.
The traditional family photo album is a great tool to get the conversation started. Elderly parents often have boxes filled with treasures such as souvenirs, mementos, and diaries that can jog memories and give a window into their past. Through the sharing of photos and other memorabilia, the stories become a natural progression, and through the discussions about what is important in life and the values that are held dear. The conversations about how you want to be cared for as you age and for your end-of-life plan can be embraced. You may even want to record your aging parent or family member, so the stories are retold in their own words. This is where Jolene found that Your Life Talks can make having the conversation easier. Your Life Talks provides conversation tools that include questions designed to prompt important conversations.
The Your Life Talks App provides users the opportunity to document their recordings – which can be important for detailing your end-of-life care plan. The app lets you talk into your phone, turning the audio recording into text, and allowing you to save the file as a document.
Sharing the story of your life and what type of aged care you want, or your end-of-life plan can provide peace of mind to your family. You leave them with guidance and answers for when they may need to support you enact these decisions for yourself, or if they may need to make these decisions on your behalf.
“It’s an absolute gift to give your family that conversation. For them to be a hundred percent aware of all your thoughts and feelings or wishes and how you have put your affairs in order is an absolute gift to both your loved ones and to yourself.” – Jolene Hill, Founder, Your Life Talks
You can hear our full interview with Jolene Hill, Now is the time to talk! which aired on our Dignified Conversations podcast on 14 July, 2021.