On Aging Parents

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Several years ago at a homeschool conference I was giving a talk about Chaos to Order, and ways to handle all the responsibilities of being a godly wife, mother and home educator when someone raised a hand and queried, ” What advice do you have for someone who is helping with aging parents?”

I gulped and said: “I have no idea'”

I really did not. My parents lived seven hours north and were both still working full time.

Now, in 2018 the health of both my parents is dire. After moving here five years ago, there have been heart attacks, total kidney failure, surgeries, hospitals, rehab, a kidney transplant, falls, scrapes, cuts, bruises, memory loss, confusion, cancer.  Indeed, they moved back to Louisville so we can help take care of them and they can enjoy the grandchildren more.

I get it now. There is a daily pull to rush to the aid of your parents, but also your legal and moral obligation to educate your children. And normal responsibilities do not go away.  Food, dishes, laundry. There are many days when I feel I have made the choice to neglect their care or to neglect my other duties because I am simply stretched too thin.

And how do you deal with parents who are making irrational decisions, furthering the decline of their own health?

And when do you say enough is enough with the number of medications and procedures they are willing to undergo for that magic bullet that will let them live one month longer? Their frail, weak bodies are now being propped up on so many medications, they their bodies must fight harder to die than it can to live. Failing valves are replaced. A failed heart can be regulated with a defibrillator/pace maker. Prostate cancer that has spread to every organ can be slowed down by using anti-testosterone therapy, but still leaves him weak as muscles waste away. Dialysis causes ripping pain in a body wasting away because in her old age she has become anorexic, refusing to eat anything actually healthy and subsisting on candy bars and cokes. And there is no reasoning with them. I have the powered-butt syndrome. You know the one – since they powdered by bottom, I have no wisdom for them.

How do you teach your children to love and serve with a joyful heart when all they have known about their grandparents is fading away rapidly as they see them say crazy things, and themselves are beginning to act more and more like irrational children?

I do not know these answers, I am wrestling with them constantly.

But here are the things I do know.

  1. No act of kindness is wasted. Even if you do not see appreciation, it does our soul good to do something kind for someone who is no longer in a position to repay it.
  2. Caring for your aging parents will bring up all kinds of things from your past that you did not realize you had never processed. Past hurts, family stress, siblings that have walked out of your parents’ lives, family skeletons, all of these things will be dredged up in a painful way, and you must proceed with care and tenderness, including with yourself. Take time to journal, process, pray and seek guidance when you need it. These are heavy, weighty things and hard to carry alone.
  3. God is faithful. Even on gut-wrenching days when you want to cry out in confusion and pain, he can take it. He knew this was coming, He is sovereign. Lean into his very capable and unchanging arms. Saturate your life with scripture wherever you can.
  4. Seeing their sharp and painful physical and mental decline will change you. You will suddenly care about whether you eat a salad or a piece of pizza. You won’t always choose well, but certainly it will be in the forefront of your thoughts.
  5. Honoring your parents is a joy and delight.
  6. Your parents are adults and are able to make their own choices. Even if they are foolish and unhealthy choices, they are indeed theirs to make.
  7. We must learn how to honor them without being enmeshed with them. (Russell Moore, The Storm-Tossed Family, 19)

I have found a book that is seriously ministering to my position in life right now. Here is the paragraph that sums up for me so much of what I am going through.

For those of us in Christ, though, storms should be no surprise. They need not panic us,nor need they destroy us. The worst things that can happen to you is not whatever you went through with your mother or father. The worst thing that can happen to you is not your sister who won’t speak to you. The worst thing that can happen to you is not a spouse walking out on your, or cheating on you, or dying on you. The worst thing that can happen to you is not seeing your child rebel against you or even attending your child’s funeral, as awful as all those things are. The worst thing that can happen to you is dying under the judgment of God, bearing the full weight of the sentence of death and hell. If you are in Christ, that’s already happened to you. You are not only a survivor, you are a beloved child, an heir of everything. Even so, it’s hard to remember all of that when your life seems to be reeling back and forth on stormy seas. (Moore, p 3-4)

Be encouraged friend. You are not in this alone. I wish I had good answers. I do not think I am doing this stage of life especially well. But I keep pressing forward because this is a part of the very high calling of Godly womanhood. And he who called us will be faithful to equip us with everything we need for this service.

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