In November 2013, my father passed away. In October 2014, I moved my 85-year-old mother in with me. Today she is 89, and the past four and a half years have been the most rewarding and most difficult of my life. We have laughed, cried, discussed difficult topics, agreed, disagreed, fussed—and yes—even cussed.
Caring for an aging parent doesn’t come with a manual. Navigating this season of life is challenging at best. Every day brings something new and different. But it’s a journey I wouldn’t trade. The Lord teaches me something new every day—mostly about who He is. Here are a few lessons I am learning right now:
1. His ways are not my ways.
I know this sounds obvious, but I tend to want to do things that are familiar or comfortable for me. Caring for my mother is a constant reminder of all I cannot control in this world. I have to take my feelings out of the equation and realize that if she feels safe and well cared for, what I feel doesn’t matter. The Lord has helped me see that, many times, my frustration with my mom when she can’t remember things or she has more difficulty doing something she used to be able to do easily isn’t actually about her at all. It’s coming from a place of grief in my heart. It’s about losing my mom even though she is still alive. And as I am able to turn those feelings over to the Lord, He begins to heal my heart.
2. This is only a season, and seasons change—sometimes before we’re ready for them to change.
It’s hard to watch my mom vanish before my eyes. It’s important for us to try to build new pathways of connection in this temporary “new normal.” There are numerous emotions, memories, twists, and turns that come with this season of life. However, it’s important to choose to stay the course, say meaningful and affirming words, tell her I love and value her, and live these closing days with no regrets. This is a valuable season that I won’t get back, and I want to make the most of it. When she is gone, I want only fond memories of our time together.
3. It’s okay to not always get it right.
My prayer has always been that I will love my mom well. Some days I get it right, but plenty of days I miss the mark. I get tired. I feel angry and resentful over all the things I’m not able to do because I need to be home caring for her. It was a long time before I was willing to admit those emotions to anyone. But now I realize it’s healing for me to admit them. It doesn’t make me a horrible person to feel this way sometimes. Besides, I have no idea how many things my mom gave up for me when I was a child. Now, it’s my turn. So, on those days when I’m not particularly feeling the love and my emotions get the best of me, I apologize when I need to, show myself some grace, and try again.
4. I don’t have to go this alone.
As I was preparing to write this article, I asked other friends who have or are caring for an aging parent for their input. I didn’t see coming just how therapeutic those conversations would be for me. Caring for aging parents can feel lonely and isolating. Even when you are surrounded by friends and family who love and care for you and want to support and encourage you any way they can, there’s just no way to truly understand this journey unless you’ve been on it yourself. In asking others for input, I realized I have an incredible network from which I can draw strength and support. I also realized it’s a network that I need to contribute to as well. I lost sight of that. But, moving forward, I intend to take advantage of this valuable gift.
My Word of Encouragement: Don’t Underestimate the Difference You Can Make
“The decision to choose others over yourself, to show mercy, to choose quality over quantity of life, … these things are the ultimate expression of love. It isn’t easy, but it is commendable. You are part of something bigger than yourself. Celebrate it. Embrace it.”1
Do the best you can to be fully present when you’re with your parent. Accept what is happening, and do your best to enjoy the person your loved one becomes. There are always moments and things to be savored and enjoyed. And once your parent is gone, it will soften your grief knowing that you served and honored your parent well.
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). When we care for our aging parents, we are acting and looking like Jesus. There’s a deep reward in that.
Gena Rogers spent almost 25 years working full-time in the arena of Christian publishing. Throughout her professional career, she had been in positions to witness and help facilitate spiritual, financial, and physical life change. Making a difference matters to her. Today, her work keeps her closer to home. She does event coordination and HR administration for a nonprofit organization. She also continues to write and edit on a contract basis, which allows her to keep her hand in the work she loves while caring for her 89-year-old mom.