Like it or not, nothing in our lives stays the same, although I must admit that potty-training seemed to last forever with five little boys. As our children grow older, so do we—and so do our parents.
It is hard to imagine that the woman who raised you, efficiently ran a household, and organized church dinners for three hundred could ever need your assistance. It is hard to imagine that the father who tossed you high in the air (to your delighted squeals) and who worked long hours to support his family could ever be too frail to get out of bed. But few of us escape the ravages of time. Even our parents, those stalwarts of strength, will someday need our help in the greatest role reversal of a lifetime.
God challenges us to be a generation who will honor our parents, not simply with our words but with our actions. We all know the sixth commandment, demonstrated for us by Christ who, even from the Cross, made arrangements for the on-going care of His mother.
Many homeschool families believe that offering personal care for their elders is a natural outgrowth of the home-centered lifestyle they have experienced while educating and discipling their children. Here are some ways we can honor our parents and other older relatives, especially if they live at a distance.
Start the conversation about the coming season of their life
It is essential that you take care of some important legal affairs while your parents are able to tell you their wishes. What if they were both in a car accident and could not make their own decisions? Who could make medical decisions on their behalf? Who could handle their financial issues if they were incapacitated? Would they want every possible medical intervention to keep them alive even if there was little hope of recovery and the treatments caused more suffering?
It is vital that each adult thinks through these issues and leaves a written record of his desires. While in her fifties, my mother decided to assemble a Family Notebook. It contained copies of important legal documents, contact information for her financial advisors, people to call at her passing, funeral preferences, and much more. She faithfully updated it through the years. It was so organized that when she died, we didn’t even require an attorney to settle her estate.
Many families find it awkward to discuss end-of-life issues. Perhaps you can take the lead by letting your siblings and parents know that you are assembling important information into your own Family Notebook. Encourage them to do the same.
Explain to your parents how grateful you will be to have all of the information you need in one place if they become incapacitated or when they die. Assure them that you don’t want to invade their privacy—many older people don’t like to share personal financial details, for example—you simply want the assurance that you will be able to follow their wishes when the time comes, as it inevitably will.
Keep in touch
Some of you are blessed to have parents living nearby where you can enjoy their company often; other parents live at a distance. Either way, it is easy to overlook the fact that they may not be as competent as they once were. We assume that things will never change, but change is a part of life.
As they age, watch for signs that your parents can no longer handle their financial, physical, or maintenance issues. This is especially important if the parent lives alone.
Put yourself in your parents’ shoes and carefully navigate around their home. Are there throw rugs that could cause a fall? Is there enough lighting for failing eyes to see clearly? When was the furnace last checked? Do you need to install grab bars in the tub or shower? Does she need a railing for the stairway? Do you need to schedule a family workday or hire a handyman?
One family of seven drives their RV to the husband’s parents’ home two and one-half hours away every two weeks. They live in the RV while doing projects, cleaning, changing sheets, etc. They cook favorite foods to leave in small portions for freezer meals. They ask questions about family history and the children do skits around a campfire and eat S’mores with their aging grandparents. Another sibling has hired help to come in a few days each week and a meal delivery service two days a week. Eventually the parents will require fulltime care, but this family has found creative ways to help bridge their parents’ independence and dependence years.
Our aging parents need our emotional support, too. Imagine how your once-active parents feel as they see their independence stripped away, one thing at a time. It may feel like they are always losing something important. They may no longer be working; this is especially difficult for men whose view of their worth was tied up in their career and their ability to successfully fulfill their job requirements. Older adults typically live on a smaller, fixed income. Perhaps they no longer can spend as freely as they did in the past.
Another loss may be a driver’s license. Relying on others for transportation is difficult for adults who have been independent all of their lives. Public transportation may be confusing for elders and it is seldom available outside of large cities.
And then they begin losing friends and family members who move away or die. Their social life is impacted with each loss. And perhaps the greatest loss: their once-healthy body betrays them—they no longer have the strength and agility to do the things they enjoy. It can feel like the losses of old age far outnumber the benefits. It is true that the classes get harder as we get closer to graduation.
Lend emotional support by budgeting time and money to allow regular contact through phone calls, email, and personal visits. As my mother aged, the phone calls that had been a Monday morning tradition morphed into daily calls. I sensed that she really didn’t want to end the calls each morning and decisions about running her home became difficult. Finally, she told me that she felt she should no longer be living alone. During the time she lived with us, I saw her relax into the light-hearted young woman who attracted my father many years before—she could relax since she no longer was burdened with the responsibilities of running a household.
Lean on the Lord as you face the realization that things will never stay the same. Pray for God’s grace on your parents as they adjust to these losses, and pray that He will lead you as you seek to honor your parents, whether from a distance or in your own home.
Remember this: your children will learn how to honor you in your old age by watching what you do for your parents or your spouse. You are laying the foundation for your own future as you care for your parents’ present.
(C) 2017 by Marcia K. Washburn. This article first appeared in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, Spring 2018. All rights reserved. For more on this important topic, click here.
For more on this important topic, see Home-Based Eldercare: Stories & Strategies for Caregivers here.