Advocacy: sounds easy, but really, doing it well is hard to do!

The Webster’s definition of Advocacy is: “the act or process of advocating: support.”

The word Advocate is defined as: “1. One that pleads the cause of another; one that maintains or defends a cause or proposal; and 2. To plead in favor of.”

As our parents and loved ones age, we come to a point in time where we become their “advocate.” This means it is our duty or task to help insure that their needs are met in the manner in which they would have wanted them to be – a.k.a. “to plead the cause of another.”

By definition, according to Webster’s, advocacy sounds pretty straight forward.

Now, throw a little bit of family pattern and human dynamics into the mix and there’s where it all goes from easy-peasy to “what just happened here?!”

In order to do this task to the best of our abilities this means we have to know what they would have wanted, or still do want. You see, as an advocate it is not up to you to force your agenda on the situation, but rather to help achieve what your loved one would have wanted. Often times we forget this. Why is this? Well, because care giving and watching our loved ones get older and less capable is so very hard to do. It puts us through a whole bunch of different emotions and that can sometime cloud our judgement.

There is also a high level of stress involved in this scenario which affects how people react. Let’s face it, most times stress brings out the side of us we least like to see. It’s not really pretty, is it?

We all know how we’d like to do things… how we ”would rule the world if we were in charge,” right? Well, think about your loved one now. Do they think like you do? Do they value what you do? As you do? Or, are they entirely different than you and would do things completely the opposite from what you would?

When you are faced with being an advocate one of the most important things to ask yourself is – am I the right person for the job? Follow that up with – will I be capable of honoring their wishes? If the answer to either of these is no, then you may need to help them find a better person to do it.

If they still want you for whatever reason, you need to do a little soul searching and see if you can switch around your thinking to meet their needs. With a parent or loved one this can be particularly hard. We have a lot of relationship stuff that makes us react differently than we would with others. The family dynamics put us in places that can only be explained in most cases as being just that – family dynamics. The roles we play in our family may not be anywhere near how we are to the rest of the world. In our own lives we could be running the entire company, but as soon as you put us with our family we’re still that silly little girl who never did anything right – or whatever the scenario is in your family.

If you’ve been wanting to be in charge of this scenario because you’ve been watching things go all wrong from the sidelines and you can’t wait to be able to step in there and fix it you could be the wrong person too. Being the advocate isn’t your chance to right the ship and do it your way to prove you are the capable adult who knew better all along. If that’s where you’re coming from that’s your ego talking and you can’t serve your family or anyone best from a place of ego. Revenge and proving ourselves is ego. Helping and caring for what is truly best for the individual is coming from spirit. Advocates need to come from a place of service. To truly be trying to do what is best and right for the person who no longer is able (even if only for the short run) to advocate for themselves.

How do you know when it’s time to advocate? Or, when to keep silent? That’s a very good question. Especially if your loved one is still coherent and mainly mentally competent. Sometimes being the advocate just means asking questions for better clarification. Seniors as a whole – at least right now, baby boomers are a whole other animal – are not good at speaking up and advocating for themselves. They tend to take a medical professional (or even an attorney’s) word for something even if they don’t fully understand it. They respect the education, experience and position of the professional and don’t push the envelope. This could be because they just don’t have it in them to do it, or they could be afraid of looking stupid for asking.

A good rule of thumb for this scenario, is to ask a question if something is puzzling you. Sometimes you even have to keep asking the question until you get an answer that does make sense to you. It’s okay, it’s best to understand things fully. It also helps the medical professionals be reminded that we don’t all speak their jargon. CHF could mean nothing to us. It could be 3 letters that we are trying to figure out what it means. Them saying “congestive heart failure” brings it a bit more in to the light to be a heart issue, but that still doesn’t paint the full picture. Keep asking until you are comfortable with the answers you receive. They won’t think you’re stupid and your loved one will most likely be so very happy you asked because they had no clue either and now they do!

See, advocacy seems easy, but really it isn’t. It’s mostly about coming from a place in your heart where you really want what is best for them and in the way they want it, and not being shy about making sure we all understand what everything means.

Oh, and it’s okay to ask for time to think about things. Many times as we ponder something more good questions come up. The best decisions and representation come from us when we really understand all of the ramifications behind it.

Finally, you are also their other set of ears as an advocate. Many times people come home from the Doctor’s with a panic position because the doctor said a word that triggered them into a bad place and they didn’t hear the rest of the conversation. Having another set of ears there really does help.

My mother stopped listening at “cancer” and totally blocked out the “could be pre-“ before cancer, and the “ous, but we’ll test it to be sure” part after. She came home and told us she had cancer. It wasn’t until she was under anesthesia for the procedure that we discovered that she misheard the whole thing. We would have all slept easier for the weeks before the procedure had someone else been with her to hear what was really said.

Okay, good luck figuring out if you are the right person to advocate for your loved one. If you have questions or concerns or a story to share, drop me a note. I’d love to hear from you and I’m always happy to help.

Let’s face it, none of this is easy, but together we hold each other up and get through it!