Perspective & Grace…Dealing with an Aged Parent

(Reflections from The Afternoon of Life: Finding Purpose and Joy in Midlife by Elyse Fitzpatrick)

“The last thing we do is die”, said Jack’s foster mom the last time we visited her. Age 86

“I just want to die.  I’m the only one left”, said by my grandmother, Helen. Age 88

“I’m not dead yet Nellie!”, said by Grandpa John to Grandma a few hours before death. Age 88

“Will you take care of her?”, said by Grandpa Kel to my sister, Paula, regarding Grandma Helen. Age 74

“I’m going to live to 100!”, Grandma Nellie said to me.  Age 99.8 months

“I’m so tired. Where’s my Don? Where’s my wedding rings?”, my mom said to me of my Dad, shortly before her death. Age 79

“There’s nothing left for me here anymore. I miss your Mother. I want to see Jesus”, said my Dad to me-this year. He will be 87 this month.

These are some of the last words of the matriarchs and patriarchs of my family.  I am blessed to say they are all believers. All made a tremendous impact on my spiritual life. All had a series of losses and gains in their latter years.  Some of us were closer. Some were only connected by an occasional Christmas card or call.  But l remember and honor their lives by retelling their stories.  I love them, and still miss them.

Only my father is left. His name is Don.  I call him Daddy.   My relationship is a long distance one of weekly phone calls, occasional cards and packages, and a yearly family reunion 350 plus miles south of me in Vandalia, IL.  A couple of my cousins popped in—Bob and Jo Ann, children of Dad’s deceased sister, my Aunt Margie, who passed last spring. This year we had the reunion in a hospital room.  It went fast just like his life.  He’s an octogenarian—80 something and a believer for most of his life . He got saved in a tent meeting with his brother Harold, Margie and his mom. My Aunt Helen believed later.  When we talk, it’s mostly of things of the past that he enjoyed; farming, truck driving, heavy equipment–mighty machines my grandson calls them nowadays!   But mostly, we talk about Jesus and a little bit about Mom.  She’s been gone over four years now.  That first year was the hardest.  Silent pauses on the phone filled with muffled weeping. That’s ok Dad…another wave of sorrow overwhelming the soul.

There’s a lot of losses in old age–mostly physical ones of a gradual nature. And yes, a bit of mental decline.  “Daddy, you’re old! There’s a lot of history in you!”  We laugh.  He cries a lot but not in a bad way.  As we talk about the season of life he’s passing through, we relate it all to a series of gains too.  Because he’s a believer, he’s more open to being steered to a more biblical perspective.  Some days he’s pretty down.  We remind ourselves of how short this stint called life is, and what God might possibly be up to.  He comes around most days to a more Christ-focused mindset.  You can tell when he begins to brighten up and gets silly.  We talk about the future hope of a life lived in the presence of Jesus and our loved ones in Christ.   And of course, no problem of evil anymore and all that brings.  So now what?  What kind of hope can I give him while contending with a broken down body in a broken down world?   And can I let him get away with being depressed, grumbling, and drifting into a downward spiral?   I swear at times, it’s like the exhausting interchange with a defiant toddler.   You just want to scream, or let things go, and not address his heart.  But that wouldn’t be loving or honorable to him or our Lord.    And that’s why we’re here, in this particular relationship, with this particular guy, my dad. It really is all about you, Lord. The process of biblical change into Christ’s image is throughout every season of my life, and then I can be glorified forever with Him. No retirement down here.  Our rest, our inheritance is Him.

We’ve had a lot of heart to hearts and even some, “Now wait a minute Daddy…”ones.  “If you want to have a relationship with me, we’re not going to talk down about (so and so) or bring up the past. That’s not Christ honoring, ok? I love you Daddy, but we’re not going to be talking like this anymore. That’s in the past, and forgiven, and placed at the foot of the cross, ok?”   Silence….”Ok, then, ok, ah, let’s talk about something else then.”   “Sure, Daddy.  Love you.” Can we really confront our parents, or elders?  Boy, that’s a lot of work, and what a can of worms, you say.  Yes, you can, and you must, if you really love them, and want to honor Christ.  But, be careful and gentle.  There is an honorable way to do this.(Gal. 6:1-5, Lev. 19:32) And check for logs in my own eye!

As we relate to our aging parents there are temptations that are of a different nature. We can become self focused, ingrown people not taking responsibility for our lives. Here are some resources that have been a help to me: Psalm 90:12; Eph. 5:16; Psalm 139:16; Phil. 4; Col. 3; “Peacemakers” by Ken Sande; and “Trusting God” by Jerry Bridges. There are some good charts on biblical responses in Martha Peace’s books, “The Excellent Wife” and “Attitudes of A Transformed Heart“, and last but not least, “Wrinkled but Not Ruined, Counsel for the Elderly” by Jay Adams.

We can help them to redeem the time left–turn their losses, so to speak, into gain as we teach them by example from Scripture to lay up treasure in heaven, where moth and decay don’t diminish all that we’ve worked for. (Matthew 6:19-20) Regarding relating to the aging, Jay Adams says, “What, for the believer, then, is the conclusion of the matter? It is to fear God and keep His commandments. It is your privilege to help others see and appropriate this truth as their own personal conclusion to guide them throughout the rest of their lives.”

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