Practicing with Children

Mourning and Hope: Caring for Aging Parents

By Chris L20140204_185033-1

I remember a Saturday afternoon when I was getting ready for soccer practice.  I ran upstairs ready to go, and my dad looked at me and asked if I planned on playing soccer in my underwear.  I looked down and saw that I had forgot to put my shorts on.  My little brother, who stood beside my dad thought that it was the funniest thing ever.  My brother still laughs at me for it.  

I remember going to Bible School in Germany, and calling dad every week.  We would talk about God, the girl I liked, my future, my doubts and my fears.  Those conversations still sit with me.

I remember my wedding day when I got to marry the girl I liked from Bible School.  I was emotionally numb like I get when I am overwhelmed.  Dad led the meditation for our wedding service.  I don’t remember what he said, but having him up close to me and my beautiful bride let me know that everything was as it was supposed to be, and that he had my back.

I remember when my eldest son Asher was born.  Unsurprisingly I was numb.  Dad was older than his years, his body was seemingly a canvas of scars and defects painted by all this medical issues.  Yet, held my son, his first grandson, and I knew that everything was going to be ok.

As dad got older, he would have multiple grand maul seizures a day.  He would not even come out of his room.  He couldn’t.  We would come visit, but we wouldn’t see him much.  Things had changed.  Dad had changed.

I remember when I flew back to Winnipeg after I found out that dad had terminal brain cancer.  We finished watching the Tottenham Hotspur game together, bonded still by the game we both love.  He wanted to go to bed, and in his discombobulated speech asked me to help him up out of his chair.  Before I did, I gave him a hug where he sat.  He squeezed as hard as he could and offered the clear words “I love you, and I am proud of you.”  Here I was journeying with him into the unknown wherein he was completely dependent on me to get him to bed.  I was caring for a man who was the shadow of his former self.  Yet, the bond still ran deep.  He still loved me a midst his decline.  Within a week he died.

The changes were drastic in nature.  Aging does that.  Brutal health conditions do that.  It presents transitions that regress physical ability and cognitive capacity.  The consequences of such increase dependence and the need for constant care-giving.  When I reflect on this regression, the emotional weight, the pain, trying to figure out the practicalities of care for a man once so brilliant and dynamic, a deep truth is revealed to me; children will need to care for their aging parents.  Having front row seats to the decline of a parent is a time of mourning, for both parent and child.

It becomes a time of mourning and hope.  Core interactions change.  For us, it was from the dining room which was once filled with laughter and joy over good food or Settlers of Catan, to a bedside caring for dad’s most basic needs.  We deeply mourned that transition.  Yet in the care a midst the mourning we can offer hope.  There is a deep hope in love which parents and children share from birth to death.  It is love that keeps us at the bed side even though there are more joyous and entertaining places to be.  It sucked being seated next to a bedside.  Sometimes it was boring.  Sometimes it was horrific.  Yet love demanded commitment from us.

In the love we shared care-giving for my dad; for every fork full of food and assisted trip to the bathroom, we participated in offering a deeper hope.  A hope inspired by divine realities which was the foundation for our family.  It inspired our love.  That God loves, reconciles and resurrects is a beautiful truth we sought to participate in.  It was implicit in our discombobulated conversations with dad near the end of his life that he was very much looking forward to the reconciliation and resurrection.  I was about 11 years old when I was imagining with dad what the new heaven and new earth would be like.  He would go on and on about creation, about bird watching, hiking up mountains, and there being no more pain.  I hope that our love for him in his final days were a glimpse into the divine coming together of all things.  Even in writing that last sentence, I find myself looking to God’s invisible face demanding that be the case.



3 thoughts on “Mourning and Hope: Caring for Aging Parents

  1. Reminds me of when my parents were living the last weeks of their lives. There was always hope…loved the chatter and planning that went on and the legacies they wanted to leave. Thanks for the great reminders, Chris!

  2. Both my parents going through dementia and other issues at same time. My dad wheelchair bound and incontinent. I have moved them to a place close by because I can’t lift him, and they have incredible care requirements. It is a very full time of life, with hope and care battling false guilt and grief. Thanks for your post.

  3. Great post..but let me introduce this book that I have read yesterday. There is a wonderful book called: A Bittersweet Season Caring for our aging parents and ourselves. By Janet Gross It was very helpful to provide some insights from someone who has been there.

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