Continuing on with our STAGES series, a dear friend, Terri Fullerton, is sharing a piece of her life and heart with us in this post. When I read this on her blog, Conversations at the Table, I knew it had to be included here. She graciously agreed to share it with us. I know this will resonate with so many of us and encourage us to live gracefully with our aging parents. I hope my kids will read this one and tuck it away for future reference. I’m already praying for an extra measure of grace for them as they deal with me as I age. 🙂 Thank you so much for sharing this, Terri! It is a pleasure to have you join us on EPFH today.
Living Gracefully with Aging Parents, by Terri Fullerton
Imagine that you are given a stack of index cards in your young adult life. Your task is to write one answer per card. These are your Life Index Cards.
Who do I love?
What do I believe?
What do I value?
What are my dreams?
What makes me feel alive?
What are my hobbies?
What are my roles?
Where do I enjoy serving?
What is my daily routine?
The answers change throughout your life because your interests are fluid. Something ignites a new passion. Seasons of life refine values and nurture growth. Deep pain and anguish unearth valuable gems of clarity and maturity. Getting older is similar to the art of photography.
Growth teaches you when to use both a wide-angle lens to capture the bigger picture and the telephoto lens to zoom in on specifics.
Sometimes we stumble through this process. Our mistakes provide rich opportunities to clarify some of our values, like ‘What is the loving, graceful thing to do in this situation?’
By the time you reach your 50’s, you have seen the aging of elderly parents or your spouse’s parents. You may fight this and deflect the issues. Be aware of the quaking in your own soul. For many of us, losing our parents is a deep unspoken fear we do not face very well.
At first their aging is like small, slow waves. You see a parent try to recall a specific year or word they have used lots of times. Sometimes it catches you off guard. You may laugh with them or get irritated, but hopefully you offer a hug or a smile. I was standing in the kitchen with my father-in-law a few years and I asked him what he had for breakfast. “Fruit and… oh, what is that word?” “Describe it to me.” “Well, it’s round and you toast it. It has a hole in it.” “A bagel!” I exclaimed. “Well, you know, you are not a bagel maker and you don’t use that word every day. I can see why that one may get hard to retrieve.” We laughed and hugged each other.
I wish it stayed this simple but it doesn’t. It seems like the mind and body of an older person is like a jigsaw puzzle with an ever-growing number of missing pieces. I don’t know if it’s possible, but maybe we can be a living puzzle piece and remind our parents of the things they can’t quite figure out.
Remember the Life Index Cards? Unlike the seasons of adding to them or refining them, aging is the process of letting them go.
Energy levels decline and reduce their hobbies. Physical challenges decrease the ways they serve. Gardening and taking care of their home of almost 50 years becomes too difficult. Their connection to their memories is like an unpredictable tide. Recalling memories, making meals, taking the boat out on the lake to fish become frustrating tasks. What was once second nature becomes a complicated process.
No wonder it is so hard. No wonder older people sometimes hold on tighter to things they need to relinquish. I imagine it is really difficult to watch your hand of index cards get smaller.
I am reminded of Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning. In this book, he chronicles his experiences in Auschwitz during World War 2. A turning point for him was when he started thinking about what the Nazi’s could not take away from him; namely the way he chose to respond to what happened to him at the concentration camp. I wonder what cannot be taken away from aging parents. Which cards will remain?
There are some things they get to keep like their faith and the incredible legacy of love they have birthed and invested in over their lifetime. Help them to hold on tight to these cards. And if, for some reason, your aging parents drop them, be willing to pick them up and try to put them back in their hand.
Terri is a wife, mother of two adult daughters and perpetual dog owner. She loves writing, reading, photography, hiking, snowshoeing, traveling and collecting fossils. She values questions that lead to deeper questions as they cultivate the soil for deeper roots of faith. Terri is a mentor at FaithWorks where she also leads Bible studies. She rotates teaching a Bible Study at the Haskell Detention Center and Jail. Terri is a recent graduate of WritersBootCamp led by Margaret Feinberg and Jonathan Merritt. You can follow her blog at terrifullerton.com.
Other posts in the STAGES series include:
I Thought I Loved You Then