Wednesday, February 29, 2012

"Honor Thy Father and Mother"

       Recently I had a conversation with my dad that was amusing and troubling. I have begun to take on a role of helping my parents with some of their financial decisions - not a role I ever saw coming. With their selling their home, relocating and buying a new, smaller home, I have been involved in handling some of the finances for that process. Dad had asked me to send them some money from that transaction and I forgot to send the check!
     We both had a good laugh at the forgetfulness of a 49 year old son and an 82 year old father. I am grateful that my father did not get angry with me in the several day process of figuring out what had and had not been done.
     The troubling part though was the fear in his voice that he had made a financial error with the money and could not remember what he had done. In my journey around this globe, my father has been one of my most trusted and admired mentors. It was tough watching him loose his physical stature and not be able to physically do the things he had always done. But, I must say, watching his oncoming mental and emotional frailty is even harder. My dad is a business man. A great business man!  With the kind of business acumen that led his peers to seek out his advice, his church to depend upon his insight too much at times, and his son to  lean on him for financial and life wisdom daily.
     And now, well now it is a different story. Not that he is incompetent to make those decisions. Now he is afraid of those decisions, afraid he'll make a mistake and cause financial harm to he and my mother. In the midst of trying to figure out what had happened with a lost financial transaction, I could hear a fear and a bewilderment in his voice that was unfamiliar and disturbing. He sounded small, frail, and honestly old. Not the old that comes with age, but with stress and strain. My first inclination was to get off the phone and go hide somewhere, but in that odd twist of fate that aging places on fathers and sons I realized I could not just go away. He needed my help. Just writing that is intimidating to me.
     This should come easy for me. I should be prepared for this - after all I work for a Long Term Care ministry! But I must say it is a battle. It is a battle watching both of my parents age physically, but is a harder battle watching them age emotionally and mentally.
     Along the way I have watched a couple of friends go through the same journey. Honestly, they are farther along the journey than I and my siblings are at this moment. I have watched as they have made the complicated decision to place their moms in nursing facilities. I have even had the opportunity to help them in the process.
     Here's what I have learned so far:
  • This process sucks - for my more refined friends, sorry but this just sucks! No one wants to live in a nursing facility because of all that it means and no adult child wants to be the one who says, "Mom, I don't think you should live alone anymore."
  • Honoring your parents means learning to parent them as they grow less independent and more dependent on others.
  • Having friends who will walk with you through the process is invaluable.
  • Hard decisions are probably going to be the kinds of decisions we have to make in the rest of our times with our parents, so we need to get ready for it. They need us now, just as we needed them earlier in our lives.
  • God is real! Their eyes are clouding, their hearing is fading, their friends are dying in droves, their minds are dulling, but God is real to them. Thus, we must help them continue in their maturity in Christ.
      I am thankful that I failed to mail a check to my dad. It made me slow down and look at things realistically, get over the fear of what this all means, and try, really try, to get this right.
     When I was younger honoring my parents meant doing what they asked; take out the trash, come home at a decent hour, treat them with respect, and try not to screw up my life. Now, honoring my parents means not running away from their needs, being honest with them when honesty may not be what they want to hear, and walking this slowing journey with them.
In His Grace,
A fellow pilgrim trying to get it right.