Monday February 26, 2007

“Honor your father and your mother that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” Exodus 20:12

This has been on my heart for a long while.  Sharing it will be heart-wrenching for me.  The emotions may make what I have to say a bit disjointed at times.  Please bear with me to the end.

God has told us in His Word, that we are to honor our parents.  This is the same, and yet different, from the Scriptures directed toward children to obey their parents.  Children are to obey their parents, and by their obedience they show their parents honor; but adult children are still directed by Scripture to honor their parents. What does this mean?  And how does it play out as our parents age?  How about if they become infirm and unable to care for their own needs?  And what happens if they are no longer able even to recognize their loved ones?  Be very, very careful – Scripture does not give us an “excuse” for not honoring our parents in any of these situations.

Honor, as defined in Webster’s 1828 Dictionary, is:  To revere; to respect; to treat with deference and submission, and perform relative duties to. (Emphasis mine).  The Scripture Mr. Webster gives in relation to this definition is the verse I began with – Exodus 20:12.

Honoring our parents, you see, isn‘t just paying tribute with your lips.  It’s one thing to treat your parents respectfully when they are healthy, well and mentally “with it”.  It’s quite another thing if they become too ill to care for themselves, or unable, mentally, to take care of their own needs.  We are still duty-bound to honor our parents by “performing relative duties” to and for them.  What does this look like practically speaking?  I can only answer you from my own experiences.

Copper and I have had the unfortunate task of burying three of our four parents.  We have also had the unique and wonderful opportunity of caring for all three of them, in our home, for varying amounts of time before their deaths.  We cared for both of my parents at the same time in the months before their deaths, caring for my mother in our home through her death.  My father remained with us for a time, gradually returning to his own home.  A few months later he lived with us again following a surgery, and stayed with us until his final hospitalization. Copper’s mom came to stay with us temporarily when she began chemotherapy treatments.  She went home for one night, and then returned and stayed with us in our home for several months and until her death.  Dad died in a hospital ICU, but our moms died in our home.

Losing our loved ones was not easy for either of us.  However, knowing that we were the ones providing their care, seeing to their needs, praying over them and with them, and just being able to stand by their sides in their final hours, hard though that was, was a blessing and very comforting to us.  We were able to honor our parents with all reverence and respect because we performed the necessary duties relative to their needful care.

Self-sacrifice does not come easily for me.  By nature, I am very selfish.  I would never have chosen to have a room in my home converted to a hospital room, complete with adjustable bed and bedside commode.  I would not have relished having our homeschool and household routines turned topsy-turvy to allow for drives to doctor’s appointments, visits from home health care workers, or to allow time for the care an ill person often requires.   I would never have chosen helping my mom or my mother-in-love in the shower.  I certainly would never have chosen to empty a bedside commode and keep it clean, or to have dealt with adult diapers and all that entails.  But guess what?  It wasn’t about me!  It was about our parents and honoring them. .

For the many months that we cared for our two moms and my dad, our home and our lives revolved around them.  Our home was open to the nurses and aids who came to assist with their care.  Our phone rang often with calls from their friends inquiring about them, or to talk with them.  We set up pharmacies and distributed medications when minds began to wander and forget.  We opened our home to visitors at any time that they would choose to call.  We encouraged.  We cooked special meals.  We bought special foods.  We cleaned up messes.  We paid their bills and did their banking.  We counseled.  We wiped tears.  We drove to doctor’s visits and treatments.  And, at times, we had to issue firm instructions.  Most of all, though, we loved.  Hugs.  Kisses. Stroking a grey head when the sleeper is troubled or in pain.  A touch on the arm or shoulder.  A pat of the hand, or even time spent just holding that hand.  I will never forget my husband’s loving care for his mother in her final hours as he wet her mouth with drops of water from the end of a straw.

We opened our homes without expecting any financial compensation from our parents.  In all three instances, we were sometimes given help with the extra groceries and sometimes not.  We were sometimes given gas money and sometimes not.  It didn’t matter.  We were thankful when reimbursement was offered, and we were thankful that God gave us the resources to care for our parents when it was not offered.  Had they all been destitute, we would have cared for them just the same trusting God to provide for all of our, and their, needs.

Never hesitate to care for an aged parent because your own children are still at home.  Both of my daughters had the opportunity of giving up their own rooms for their grandmothers.  Both of these young women, Corin at 12 and Dani at 20, were able to act as nurses for their grandmothers.  Ask Corin, or ask Dani.  I am sure both of them will tell you that this is something that they would gladly do again.  Gladly.  Their sacrifice was nothing when measured against the opportunity of blessing a beloved grandmother.  Neither of my boys was alive to know my parents, but I know that they both carry very fond memories of the months that Copper’s Mom, their Memom, lived with us.  While she was able, she spent several hours every day sitting on the couch in our schoolroom while we home schooled.  I can still hear her encouraging my eldest when he dawdled, “Sugar, you better get busy with that.”  My eight year old, then just six, was just a beginning reader, and he would often sit next to her for help with the tough words.  Those are priceless memories!

I know that there are some circumstances that would prevent caring for an aged or ill parent.  For example, my dad’s last illness required constant respiratory care that could not be done in a private home.  In fact, it could only be done in an Intensive Care Unit.  I have a dear friend whose mother has Alzheimer’s.  This dear women is prone to wandering for hours each and very night.  She needs round the clock supervision, which is not possible for my friend to provide.  In such unique circumstances, insuring your parent’s health and safety is of primary concern.

However, these are the rare exceptions.  Most of our parents needs, whether through illness or age, can be met in the home.  Home care nurses taught me how to keep my mom’s, and my dad’s, catheters clean.  (Dad and I had some interesting sessions in the bathroom, trying to protect his privacy while still taking care of the catheter!) Bathroom issues are uncomfortable, but honestly, it is much more degrading to have a stranger help you with bathing or toileting than a loved one.  (One of Copper’s Grandmas had a very hard time getting used to a strange man giving her a shower at the care home she resides in.  In fact, though she‘s resigned herself to this, she still comments about it.)  I have a very bad back, but the home health nurses were able to come in to assist with baths and also to show me the best way to help our moms with this without straining my back.  The same with lifting and helping in and out of bed.  There are really some nifty tricks you can learn!  We employed baby monitors to help us keep track of our parents and their needs during the night.  Where there is a will, there is a way.

It’s not all work and sacrifice!  Not at all!  Caring for your parents is a huge blessing.  Some days, when we were “in the trenches” the blessing was hard to see, but it was still there.  We learned to lean more heavily on the Lord.  Our children were able to be with their grandparents daily and to encourage, and be encouraged by, them. Being with loved ones in a cheerful household is a good tonic for the aged – “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Proverbs 17:22

As your parents age, or if illness strikes, I beseech you to seek the Lord concerning their care.  Better yet, talk with them ahead of time.  My folks knew that we would take care of them.  There was never a question about it! We had many discussions, over the years, with Copper’s mom about her care should she ever need it.  I’m glad that she knew our hearts in advance and knew she was more than welcome, even wanted, here!  Honor your mother and father.  God commands it.  You’ll never regret it.

God bless you as you look well to the ways of your household!
Proverbs 31:27

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5 comments to Monday February 26, 2007

  • I am in that situation right now.

     I have been taking care of my mother for about 8 years now. When she moved in with us she was relatively healthy and was able to help me with household chores. I was working so it truly was a blessing but since 2001 she has been steadily going downhill. It is draining, exhausting, sometimes seemingly thankless but I swear I would not change a thing. * except for my mothers health of course* Both my boys are excellent caregivers and can step in when I need a break. They have a wonderful bond with her that I would not trade for all the tea in China.

    I pray that when her times does come, she will be here, home with us..

  • This was a great post, and I wholeheartedly agree with you!  I have 4 siblings, so we would have to fight over who gets my mom and dad 🙂  I don’t have much room, but I’d take them both in a heartbeat!  Thanks for sharing your heart on this matter.  It was so well written….


  • Neither my husband’s nor my parents have reached this stage yet, but I’ve watched as my parents and their siblings cared for my grandmothers in their final years.  One grandmother needed constant care for the last 10 years of her life, and my aunt (her DIL) retired early in order to be her caretaker.  It was a long 10 years for her, during which she also cared for her own mother, but she was faithful to honor her husband’s mother.

    My real mother died 25 years ago, at the age of 37, from complications of diabetes.  I was only 16 when she died, and I look back now at how selfish I was and wish I had the opportunity to do it over again.  I did learn that life does not revolve around me, though, and I learned that life’s circumstances will not always be perfect, but you can still manage to live through them.  Now, as my dad and stepmom enter their 60’s (and still healthy!) I would jump at the chance to care for them – and I even have siblings to help now (I was my parents’ only child)!  My husband’s parents are also still healthy, praise the Lord, but we are willing to care for them also.

    This was a great post, one that so many need to read and consider.  May the Lord continue to bless you for honoring your parents!

  • What a wonderful, inspiring post, Copperswife. I promised my Dad many years ago that he and my mom would never have to go and live in a nursing home. Even if it means converting our garage into a room for them to be comfortable…whatever it takes.


  • What a blessing that post was! Due to circumstances beyond my control (but certainly in God’s control) my husband’s parents both needed hospitalization at the ends of their lives, which is where they died. My own dad died at age 65 of cancer. He was able to be home, with my mom caring for him (with help from hospice). My mom lived with us for a very short while when it became obvious she wasn’t safe in her own home (about 6 years ago), but it became evident that she was better off in an assisted living facility (nearby) where she could get the extra attention she needed. My mentally handicapped sister was already staying with us, and it wouldn’t have been fair to stress her out like that. She died last year at 85 years of age. I wish she could’ve lived with us before her health started failing, and developed a closer relationship with our daughters, but that was not to be (is there a lesson here for us younger parents?). A trust in God’s infinite wisdom bore us up through it all. I always think of the hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”: morning by morning new mercies I see. :sunny: