Cherish. This one-word comment was left on my Facebook page by a long-time friend. I had just posted the news that my brothers and I were holding bedside vigils during our dad’s final days. Looking back, I realize that my friend’s brief post hit the mark.
While helping oversee the physical aspects of dad’s end-of-life care was of paramount importance, it was even more critical to treasure our final relational connections:
. . . to see a light of recognition in his eyes;
. . . to tell him how much he meant to me;
. . . to feel his parched lips kiss my hand.
These are moments I will always cherish.
If you still have your parents, I hope you’ll have the bittersweet privilege of being with them in their final hours.
But more importantly, I urge you not to wait until their lives are slipping away to treasure them.
Begin cherishing them NOW.
Almost everyone I’ve talked to who has lost a parent, whether recently or thirty years ago, still misses their mom or dad deeply. And most of them will tell you they’d give almost anything to spend even a few minutes with their parent again.
I know, you’re incredibly busy. So many things clamor for your attention that you can hardly catch your breath sometimes.
I get it. Like most adult children, I grew up to have a full life of my own – career, friends, ministry, recreational activities, and a home to manage (many of you can add caring for a spouse and children/grandchildren to the list). After all, wasn’t this what our parents hoped for us – to launch us to pursue our God-given dreams?
Indeed, cutting the apron strings and “leaving home” is part of the natural order of things.
But in today’s society, many adult children achieve such autonomy that connection with family, including parents, is sacrificed. Often children move hundreds and even thousands of miles away to pursue careers and other interests. And when their parents begin to age and show signs of needing more help, they are faced with some tough decisions about how to best care for them.
Such was my case when I found myself living several states away from my folks. I was deeply fulfilled and happy working at an amazing Christian camp and conference center. After over a decade serving there, my connections ran deep.
I made it “home” to visit mom and dad about once a year, and they typically traveled to see me annually, as well. We maintained a wonderful tradition of talking for at least an hour every Sunday afternoon by phone.
But as their health began to decline, I knew this wasn’t going to be enough. Not for them, or for me.
Even so, my decision to move closer to my parents did not come easily. I wrestled with it for over two years. I prayed, sought input from wise friends, and overanalyzed. I applied for jobs in my parents’ state with no results. Eventually I gained the internal “release” that it was time to move, even without the security of employment waiting on the other end.
I took a leap of faith, believing it was what God was calling me to do. Within a couple of weeks of moving, a door opened for a new job.
That was over fifteen years ago. And now it seems like a blink of an eye.
Was it a sacrifice to move closer to my parents? In a number of ways, yes.
Were there heart-wrenching and exhausting moments as I cared for my mom and dad? Absolutely.
Did I sometimes wish I had more freedom to live “my” life? Uh huh.
But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
I was blessed with the opportunity to spend hundreds of hours with mom and dad that I would have missed had I not moved. I had the privilege of serving as their primary caregiver, protector, and advocate as our roles gradually reversed.
Most importantly, we had more time to cherish one another. We shared countless hugs, smiles and laughs. Mom and Dad frequently said, “What would I do without you?”
Now that they are gone, I wonder, “What will I do without them?”
I realize that everyone’s eldercare situation is different. It’s not always possible for adult children to move closer to their parents, or move their parents closer to them. Others are in the throes of intense caregiving, some even living under the same roof with their loved ones who are battling mental and physical decline.
No matter where you find yourself in the eldercare spectrum, I invite you to consider ways you can be more intentional about cherishing your parents right now.
“Cherish” is defined in The Oxford Dictionary as “to protect and care for someone lovingly.” Merriam-Webster adds the sentiment, “to feel or show great love for someone.” My own concept of cherishing includes savoring and treasuring special moments shared with a dear one.
Here’s my challenge to you:
Whether you live close by or many miles from your mom and dad, think about additional ways you can protect, care for, treasure, and show great love for them.
To get your ideas flowing, here are a few things I learned during my eldercare journey:
Twenty-five Tips for Treasuring your Elderly Parents
- Don’t take your parents for granted or assume you have a lot of time left with them.
- Resolve any relational barriers (forgive or ask forgiveness, if needed).
- Connect with them more often. (If you can’t do so in person, make it a higher priority to call, “skype”, email, text, or write letters).
- Engage them in activities – join in their favorite pastimes and take them on outings.
- Enable their independence as long as possible.
- Ensure their access to spiritual resources. Pray for them and with them.
- Enjoy nature together. Go for walks (or wheelchair rides, if applicable).
- Be patient. Be patient. Be patient.
- Preserve special moments in a journal. List some of their favorite sayings, songs, Bible verses, stories, etc.
- Facilitate visits with family, friends, and pets.
- Say “I love you” often. Thank them for what they have done for you.
- Interview them about your family’s history.
- Take new pictures and videos together. Dig out old photo albums/scrapbooks and take a stroll down memory lane.
- Give hugs (lots and lots of them).
- Be alert to their increasing needs (if you don’t live near-by, enlist a neighbor, friend or other relative to check on them frequently).
- Be their advocate. Go with them (or assign someone) to be present at medical appointments. Monitor their care vigilantly and don’t be afraid to question doctors and caregivers.
- Ensure that their wills and medical/durable power-of-attorney documents are in place.
- Be their protector. Look for hazards in their home and watch for at-risk behaviors. Remain alert for scams that prey on the elderly.
- Preserve their dignity as they lose the ability to do things for themselves. Be thankful for what they still can do rather than focusing on what has been lost.
- Extend grace (put yourself in their shoes).
- Keep your sense of humor.
- Sacrifice willingly.
- Take breaks when you feel overwhelmed.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
- If faced with end-of-life/estate decisions, think about what they would want. Honor their final wishes.
While providing eldercare can be a stressful and exhausting responsibility, it is also one of the most rewarding and precious experiences you can ever have. If your mom and dad are still living, count yourself blessed. Embrace this season and cherish your parents while you still can.
Indeed, let’s be more purposeful about treasuring all of the people who are important to us. It’s one of the keys to a richer and more joy-filled life.
“Honor your father and mother. This is the first commandment with a promise: If you honor your father and mother, things will go well for you, and you will have a long life on the earth.” Ephesians 6:2-3 (New Living Translation)
Some cherished moments with mom and dad . . .