A few have asked and yes, we have had that conversation. At this point it is still just a “someday” so it was relatively easy. We even managed a joke or two to relieve the tension. Another ten years and that might not have been the case. Give yourselves the same gift.
There is another conversation you need to have, the one with your parents.
First we are going to presume that those who bother to read this already understand their obligation to their parents and are willing to take care of it. Jesus seemed to presume that God’s people understood that responsibility himself (Mark 7:9-13).
The difficult thing in this case is recognizing the time when the roles have made a complete reversal, when you might need to make the decisions for your parents instead of allowing them to make them. It will not be easy. They may even resent it. But think about this: at one point in your life, they made all the decisions for you and many of them were difficult. You ought to know from your own parenting experience that children change your life and your schedule, that they become the first and last things on your mind day and night, that you sometimes cry long and hard as you decide to do things you know they need but will not like, and that may even effect your relationship with them. It comes with the job. That’s what parental responsibility is.
Now take every one of those things and turn it toward your care for your elderly parents. It may change your life, your schedule and your priorities. That’s the way it is and as it should be—you did the same thing to them the day you cried your first lusty little cry. You may have to give up parts of your life for them—just the way they gave up things to raise you. And you may need to go against their wishes for their own good, even if it makes them angry. That is NOT disrespecting your parents. That is taking on the responsibility of their care.
A few suggestions. If your parent is the independent sort, you may need to be the one who says, “You can’t live alone any longer.” She may beg you not to take her into your home or put her into assisted living or whatever option is best, but if her balance is poor, if she can no longer see to her basic needs, if her mind is not clear enough to take her medications properly, then it may just be that difficult time. It is not a sign of respect to allow her to live in filth because she can no longer clean up after herself—it is actually a danger to her health and the ultimate indignity. If she falls easily, who will be there to call for help, or will she lie there for hours until you come to make your regular check on her? If she cannot cook any longer, how will she get the proper nutrition? Would your parents have allowed any of that to happen to you as a child? Then why would you allow it to happen to them and call it “respecting their wishes?”
Go to her doctor’s appointments and find out exactly what the doctor says, not what she reports that he has said. She may forget something or simply get the information wrong due to an unclear mind. AND TELL THE DOCTOR EXACTLY WHAT IS HAPPENING AT HOME. He may make a decision based on seeing her for a five or ten minute appointment that would be completely different if he talked to her for twenty or thirty minutes. You need to tell him if she doesn’t take her medicine as he prescribes. You need to tell him if she repeats the same thing every thirty minutes. He needs to hear that she can no longer perform simple tasks like putting toothpaste on her toothbrush or deciding whether she needs a spoon or a fork to eat soup. You are not tattling—that’s a playground term. You are taking on the responsibility God expects of you to care for a parent, and you are doing it even when it might cost you that parent’s goodwill for a while. Someone has to be the adult when she no longer can be, and that someone is you.
Get a list of her medications. What will happen if you make an emergency run to the hospital and you cannot tell them what she is taking? If she is unable to do so, the proper care may be delayed or the wrong care may result in disaster because no one had that information.
So talk about it now. Ask her (or him) if, when the time comes, she might like to live with you or another sibling, or whether she would prefer assisted living. And recognize that things can change. My grandmother lived 98 years. By the time she needed that care, my father was ill and my mother was his caregiver 24/7. She could not take her mother in, too, so assisted living was the only way to go. When the time came for my mother, we lived way out in the country where she would have no visitors and no place to walk for exercise on uneven ground, plus a home with steps and doors too narrow for her walker to fit through, and where her doctor and the nearest hospital was nearly 30 miles away. We could not afford to move and the doctor said she needed to be close to him. So, once again, assisted living was the answer. She was not left alone. We saw her between 1 and 3 times a week, took her to all her appointments, had her out to our house for every holiday and many times for a meal in between, and called every day we were not there. Our church family was marvelous about visiting, and even taking her out for lunch. Of course, she was a pretty marvelous person to visit with too.
Talk about possibilities now, before the decisions are hard. The longer you wait, the more heartbreaking it will be. And since when has God ever accepted ignorance as an excuse?
But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God, 1Tim 5:4.