How will you face the demands of aging parents?
Today, my heart is burdened over the storm several dear friends are going through. Their aged parents have reached a crisis point. Decisions are necessary. Painful decisions.
In Old Testament days, a man’s life spanned hundreds of years. But God grew weary of the wickedness introduced through Adam in the Garden of Eden.
Life spans grew shorter. And shorter still. The centuries rolled by and sin’s infection spread. Diseases took root. Wars proliferated. And man’s time on earth dropped to well below the century mark.
Today, with the marvels of science, we strive to regain our former longevity. At the turn of the twentieth century, a man’s life expectancy in the United States was 46.3 years (from Berkeley University’s Demographics survey). In 1998, the average age man lived to 73.8 years.
Today, In 2015, we have reached a new high of 76.4 years.
Just as every dark cloud has a silver lining, so too does every bright spot have a downside. We’ve extended our quantity of life, but with little consideration for its quality. You see, while we can’t know when our last day will be, we do know that as the years pass, our demise draws closer. For the Christian, this is a welcome event. For others, not so much. Either way, it brings a plethora of health issues as our earthly bodies decline.
Unfortunately, our society has not prepared us for the problems of advanced age and its inherent problems. Baby Boomers especially are not prepared for the unique difficulties that come with Golden Agers. To put it bluntly, we are simply not equipped—physically, financially, mentally, or emotionally.
Having gone through this experience with my own mother I can offer a few hard facts I learned along the way:
- With age, our bodies begin to fail. This happens sooner for some, later for others. It is a natural process and while you might slow the inevitable down with medical intervention, death will eventually come.
- Financial, physical, and emotional burdens are part of increasing age, for both the senior and the caregiver-child. Start early in life planning for your own financial needs that will come in your later years. Dependence on the government is a weak straw. Dependence on your children is a burden.
- Just as an automobile wears out over time, so too does the human body. I once had a 15-year old Miata that started spluttering as I drove on the highway. I prayed it along, all the way to the repair shop where they diagnosed a worn out, eroded electrical system. They replaced the rusted wires and it was good as new. Too bad we can’t do the same with the human brain. You see, with advanced years comes faulty wiring. Eyesight fails. Hearing fails. Memory fails. Sometimes, things just get skewed in our brain’s wiring. It happens. Anger doesn’t help. Impatience exacerbates everyone’s anxiety. Patience and understanding are imperative. Revere what you can and forgive what you can’t. Then move forward.
- With faulty wiring, you often see mood swings or personality changes. One day you wake up and realize the man or woman accusing you of wrongdoing, who flies into uncalled for rages–they aren’t the same person who raised you. It’s not your fault, but it’s not theirs either. Patience, understanding, forgiveness (for you and them), and more patience.
- When their decision-making becomes compromised (and it will), you have to be prepared to take action. Yes, I advocate letting the elderly live an independent life, but only so long as they are mentally and physically capable. But don’t let them become a risk to themselves or to others. Be watchful of their legal, financial, medical, and social well-being.
- At some point, your aging loved one may become unable to care for themselves. Will you bring them into your home or place them in a professional nursing facility? This is a tough decision that demands much prayerful thought.
- Eldercare comes at a price, be it the cost of professional care or a professional care facility, or the emotional impact if you decide to take on the responsibility yourself. Before you decide, weigh carefully your ability to provide the time and quality of care your aging loved one requires. Weigh also the toll such a commitment will take on you and your family.
- Finally, be prepared for the burden of guilt. You will know in your mind that your decisions are meant for your loved one’s good, but your heart will still question your motives. You will weep buckets of tears. Prepare yourself ahead of time by making what decisions you can while emotions aren’t involved.
Life passes on. We grieve when loved ones leave us, but as Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:11 — He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot know what God has done from the beginning to the end.
For those of us who have hope in Jesus Christ, know that one day …