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Caring for Aging Parents

My wife's 89-year-old grandmother (MawMaw) lives with us. We are constantly reminded of how thankful she is for taking her in. Her doctor recommended that she go into a nursing home or healthcare facility a couple of years ago because she is incapable of taking care of herself. That was not an option she was willing to do. However, sometimes she feels like a burden on us and reminds us of this as well.

We have a duty as children to take care of our aging parents. But that is not to mean we should not consider their increasing medical needs and limited resources that would necessitate a long-term care facility. In fact, we could argue taking advantage of these options is the most charitable thing to do in given circumstances.

I am writing this to say there is a difference in an undue burden and what we are capable of as their children and our responsibility. In one aspect, she is a burden. That is humanity, right? Little children and babies are a burden. Children with disabilities are a burden. Marriage is a burden. Family life is a burden. Work is a burden. But why have we come to the point in our culture that we regularly avoid such burdens/callings? I have heard from others that they would not want to be a burden to their family and would rather be in a nursing home or, better yet, be dead in similar circumstances. Unfortunately, we have bought into as a culture that we are of no value the less viable and useful we are. I will argue to the contrary.

It is often MawMaw reminds us of how she wishes she could do more around the house to help. I think giving her opportunities to help does indeed give her some sense of purpose. And in a lot of ways, she is like having another child who you find ways to incorporate their help around the house to make them feel appreciated and valued. It is often she feels like she is just a shell of a body that is utterly dependent on others. She used to be an independent woman who spent her whole life at the service of others and found great purpose in this. It is not easy seeing someone lose this independence. So we have developed ways that she can help. Not long ago, we had her help make one of her famous vegetable soups for dinner, everybody enjoyed it, and she liked that we enjoyed a recipe that was handed down to her.

I have reminded her often that she does the most when my kids are given the opportunity to serve her. My children learn the good that comes in serving others. It is most necessary to learn this virtue as a child. Our world is full of intitled grownups who are incapable of seeing the need of others. It is in helping their grandmother that they learn to care and advocate for the most vulnerable. They also learn the joy that comes from serving her and others to come.

This immense responsibility for their grandmother can only be understood by one who has complete awareness of the value of the person. Again something we lack as a culture and society - the awareness of the value of the human person. Being responsible for another is in itself never unpleasant but an enrichment and a broadening of being a human being. The greater the feeling of responsibility for the other the more true love there is and so they learn love is not utilitarian (maximization of pleasure and minimization of discomfort) in nature but giving and sacrificial in nature. This understanding of love will go a long way in living a life of fulfillment in their relationships to come.

Remember this when it comes time to take care of an aging or dying parent. Remember this when you are the aging, dying parent. These are learning moments. You might deprive your children the honor and joy that comes from service when you are most vulnerable. Most of all you will not lose your sense of purpose and value. It could be argued this is your greatest accomplishment and life's purpose.

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