“Honor your father and mother — which is the first commandment with a promise — so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth” (Ephesians 6:2-3).
Trying not to become frustrated at the sluggish traffic, I turned up the volume on my radio. There must be a wreck. I tapped my fingers on the steering wheel in rhythm to the music.
As I made my way over a hill, I saw the culprit. Bless his heart. Why is no one helping him? The elderly man, with a furrowed brow and stooped posture, stood with his hands in his pockets, surveying a flat tire.
Cars slowly made their way around his truck. As I approached, we made eye contact. I hit the brakes, tears creeping to the surface. I pulled over and walked quickly to the helpless man. His dazed expression released my tears.
When had my dad grown old? I pictured him teaching me how to change a tire, joking about how in no time I would be able to replace one “lickety-split.” There he stood, confused and disheveled. For a few seconds, he didn’t recognize me.
Watching our parents gradually diminish in stature is hard. We intuitively know it’s part of the circle of life, and yet, navigating the role-reversal era is daunting. If we’re not careful, we can waste time pining for who they were and miss who they are. We can become so fixated on ensuring their affairs are in order and formulating their long-term care plan that we miss the gift of simply honoring them.
If we’re not careful, we can waste time pining for who they were and miss who they are.
Often as people age, they become anxious and depressed, and understandably so. An unknown future with loss of purpose and increasing dependency is scary. Many are unable to articulate their fears, and these feelings may manifest as anger or stubbornness, which leads to conflict. Because none of us want to live with regrets, patience and empathy are key.
As our parent’s world narrows in later life, we can honor them by reassuring them that they still have value. They still have a purpose and a voice. We can empower them by giving them as much control as possible. We can ask them how they envision their later years and help them make a bucket list. If their ideas aren’t realistic, we need to be creative in suggesting alternatives.
Additionally, we can guide them in telling their stories, reminisce through old photos and letters, or simply ask them questions. What were your school days like? When did you first experience love? What was the happiest day of your life? We need to affirm that their life had, and still has, meaning.
If these conversations are difficult due to their personality or poor choices, we can still acknowledge their strength and resilience. Though our parents are flawed, we can offer the gift of grace and model Jesus’s unconditional compassion. We can make it known in words and actions that they are not a burden — they are still our parents whom we love and cherish.
The later seasons can be a time of softening and reflection as we honor the ones who gave us life. We can be intentional about slowing the rhythm of our days. We can take time to pause, to sit quietly, appreciating the arms that held us, the hands that comforted us. We can move out of our comfort zones to tell them of our love and appreciation.
Then when our Creator, the author of their story, calls them home, we will have no regrets. As we imagine Him telling them, “Well done, my good and faithful servant,” we can hear Him whisper the same to us.
by Susan Rush / Family Caregiver Support Specialist / Council on Aging in Union County
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