Most couples have an extended last chance to love their parents because of the aging process. Here are just some of the common situations that provide those opportunities.
- Crippling diseases like Parkinson’s disease
- Physical limitations like loss of hearing or sight
- Mobility challenges like balance or muscle control
- Memory challenges like dementia or Alzheimer’s
- Behavioral challenges like stubborn unwillingness to adapt
- Emotional challenges like explosive uncontrolled anger
Mobility is the most common disability impacting approximately 40% of the population. This disability not only generates opportunities for adult children to love by serving seniors but also the church. What a wonderful workday project for the men of the church to gather and build a ramp to provide either a walkup approach to the home or a wheelchair approach.
My counseling experience likely includes more than the normal number of cases regarding elderly parent issues since I have a specialty in gerontology. It has been my experience that most couples who come to seek help with an elderly parent or relative are not prepared to address the issues that arise. These include negative attitudes, lack of self-awareness of the depth of their situation, lack of knowledge of options to address the situations, and lack of ability to see the scriptural application to their situations.
Therefore, the reality is twofold. One, they are experiencing situations with their parents that are confusing at best. And, secondly, they need the assistance of the church, especially the Pastor to help them sort out the issues and tap into the resources available.
The Ultimate Resource
Couples can quickly find themselves frustrated with one another for several reasons. Sometimes a husband may get frustrated with his wife because she picks up the load of care for a parent and her siblings do not assist. He will get angry at her because she allows them to put all the burden on her or he gets angry with them but vents it on her. Providing living space for the parent in the home crimps the style of their lovemaking because of a lack of privacy. They may give up the master bedroom, so the parent has a bathroom immediately accessible, putting them down the hall next to their teenage children. There are numerous scenarios that take little imagination to perceive that will give occasion for other negative attitudes, emotions, and unkind actions.
So, what is the ultimate resource? How does one find hope or give hope to a friend? Think of Abraham and God’s call. “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, and from to your relatives and from your father’s house to a land which I will show you…’” Where was the hope and peace for Abraham? It resided in one thing, God himself. This is the ultimate hope, the ultimate resource. Just how much God reveals his character to Abraham, we are not sure. We do not that God kept revealing more and more of himself as Abraham took him at this word and engaged in his assignment. We need to appraise ourselves with the knowledge of God.
Hence, when a couple finds themselves with the necessity (and the opportunity) for this last chance to love a parent or parents, the Ultimate Resource is the place to begin, the place to nest.
How to Mine the Ultimate Resource
Listen to this directive from Proverbs 1:1-12. My son, if you will receive my words and treasure my commandments within you by making your ear attentive to wisdom by Inclining your heart to understand by praying for insight and understanding—you know as if you were digging for silver or diving for hidden treasure. Then you will understand the fear of the Lord, you will discover the knowledge of God gaining His wisdom that comes through His word. He is the storehouse of wisdom. He is the place of protection; he is the source of integrity, and he is the guardian of justice. He will enable you to discern righteousness, justice, and the pathway of integrity. All this will be your portion because His wisdom will enter your heart and you will find delight for your soul and discretion will be your portion. Finally, you will find protection from the way of evil (my paraphrase putting the proverbial into prose.
Applying the Ultimate Resource
Now with God, in his holy complex character and the provision of His Word as the resource, a couple is prepared to engage the opportunity of the last chance to love the parent(s). This provides a framework to determine by appropriate, respectful, and inclusive (parent, siblings, children) negotiations to determine such things as:
- Who will take the lead responsibility?
- Who will administrate the finances?
- Who will make the medical decisions? (Best to have end-of-life documents in hand).
- Who will provide living space? Or where will the parent(s) live?
- How will this family work through these issues?
- Regular monthly meeting
- Quarterly review
- How to handle the non-participating sibling
Revisit an old familiar verse but carefully consider its impact. I call this bedrock theology 101. Trust in the Lord with all your heart (mind, will, and emotions), trust not your own understanding (always stand under the Word, and never raise your thinking to the level of authority over God’s Word. Always acknowledge that God knows best by submitting to His Word. Then, rest assured, God will direct your way (and I take it this means, that his way is always the best way even if it does not feel like it. (Prov 3:5-6).
A Personal Journey
My wife’s father’s Parkinson’s disease brought him virtual incapacitation by early August of his final year. Her more could no longer manage his care alone. From mid-August through Thanksgiving, my wife drove three hours to south Atlanta to assist her mother. She would come late Thursday afternoon and return after church on Sunday. Her brother would come in off the road, he traveled every week) on Thursday and pick up where my wife left off. Not a particularly pleasant time for any of us, but in God’s providence it was necessary.
The Lord provided the wisdom, strength, protect in all the travel as well as in the physical challenges of his care. With all of us living in “the environment of God,” we not only navigated this challenge, but we loved her parents well. When the Lord took Frank home, we had no regrets. We had no venting of anger, no resentments, no hurts to forgive. It was a sorrowful journey highlighted by the joyful loving of her parents, grateful hearts for the sustaining wisdom and strength of God, clear consciences, and mutual respect for one another.