Those of you who follow my posts on Twitter or Facebook know that my father, Al Bordeaux, has had a very difficult time lately. As I sit in his hospital room I began to list some lessons that I have learned from watching my parents grow old.
Growing old may not be what you think – It is impossible to fully conceive many things in life until you have experienced them and the same is true with aging. Our preconceived ideas of what older people are like as well as what it is like to age may be far from the facts. We all hope and pray that our parents live long, healthy lives and enjoy freedom and health after their retirement. Some do, but eventually even the healthiest of people succumb to aging. Here are a few reminders that I pray will help you and those you love.
Things will not always be the same. – The parents that I knew in childhood, teenage, and young adult years will not always be the young, confident, humorous, and strong people we have known. Of course, we know this, but honestly, when was the last time you imagined your parents confined to a wheelchair, afraid, sick, forgetful, and dependent on others? That’s my point. What we hope and pray for (health, strength and length of days) may not be God’s will for us or our parents.
Since it is all-too-obvious that life is brief we should savor every opportunity we have to spend with our parents (or grandparents). How well I remember the joy on my mother’s face when my family and I arrived at her door after we had moved away. On one occasion I came home alone and unannounced and when she opened the door she dissolved into tears saying, “I was just praying for God to bring you home to see me! I’m so lonely and I miss you all so much!
My father was reared in a home where his father never told him he loved him and as a result, my dad has been stingy with compliments and affection. But when I took time (that I didn’t have) to drive to Savannah to play golf with my Dad he was a different person. I treasure those times when he opened up and shared stories with me and showed his love.
I had no idea how much even the small things meant to our parents once I had married and moved away. One of the times when my Mom came to visit us when we lived in Georgia I took her for a drive throughout the area. We talked about a lot of things, but nothing in particular. When we returned, I stopped in our church parking lot and we just sat there for a few minutes. Then my mom exclaimed, “This has been one of the best times of my life!” When I asked her why, she said, “Just being with you, not being in a hurry, not being distracted, but just talking!” Now that I am middle-aged with both children out of the house I understand what she meant.
Be a good listener. Those parents who taught us how to read, tie our shoes, and play ball still have wisdom to share. Even if you’ve heard the story before, listen. They enjoy reliving special times and retelling a story enables them to do that. Sure, many older parents or grandparents may not understand Twitter, your music, or your job, but that doesn’t mean they are dumb.
Be patient with them. For me, that can be so hard when I am in a hurry, but I am trying. As you listen, make notes. One day those simple, “boring” stories will be gone and we will long to ask our parents questions about their childhoods or even ours. I treasure stories my grandparents and parents have told me about their lives. I need to hear their stories to better understand and appreciate them as well as pass those stories down to my children and grandchildren.
Difficult days are ahead; ask God to prepare you for them. I never could have imagined caring for my strong, athletic, retired railroad worker Dad like I have the last number of years. Yes, we do it and count it a privilege to have Dad with us; we’ve had many laughs, hugs and stories, but don’t let anyone mislead you – caring for the infirmed – especially a loved one – is one of the most exhausting and stressful things we can do.
Who could have told me the amount of responsibility I would have inherited when my Dad had a stroke? When I got the call my Dad was having emergency surgery I drove to Wilmington to be at his side. I slept in my car and drove back to work the next morning. This went on for weeks and when he was moved to rehab I continued my vigil. Since then I have been sure to give him the right medications, and help him with baths. I helped him learn to walk after his stroke as well as such mundane and simple things as teaching him how to use a TV remote. And might I add that I was doing this during one of the most challenging times of my ministry?
No, I don’t regret a moment of whatever small sacrifice I have made and you won’t either. What we would regret is not taking time, not sacrificing, and not being there for them. The point is prepare yourself. Only God knows what the future holds.
“A pain like no other”
Finally, be sure you are ready. When a loved one dies it is natural to grieve. Everyone’s grief is personal and no one, but God fully understands how we hurt. But those who know Christ have hope and comfort during times of grief that others cannot.
To be the best son or daughter to your parents and be able to look back with few regrets the most important thing you can do is have a real and personal relationship with God through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. If you turn from self and sin to surrender to Him and trust Him for mercy and grace you will have the Guide you need through these difficult days as well as the Comforter you will need when your parents leave this life.
“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 have a long life in the land.” (Eph. 6:2 – 3 HCSB)
Seeking to honor,