Gladys was full of energy and insight before a stroke sapped her strength and made it hard for her to focus her attention. In the years after the stroke, Gladys gradually lost the ability to make consistent decisions for herself. Her husband had died years earlier, and when she was in her 80s, Gladys moved in with her daughter, Fiona.
At first, Fiona was able to keep up with her mother’s needs. Fiona’s own children were out of college and living in other cities. Gladys depended on Fiona for many things, but Gladys could dress and clean herself. As time passed, however, Gladys’ needs became more complicated. She would wander the house at all hours, she could not clean herself without help, and she would attempt to use dangerous appliances. Fiona did not sleep well. Even with help from her husband, they could not keep up with Gladys’ increasing need for care.
Gladys had the money to move into a modest assisted living facility. Fiona had long thought that children who loved their parents would never abandon them to be cared for by others. Now she was not sure. She wanted to honor her mother. Fiona considered insisting that one of her single children move home to help with Gladys’ care. Fiona looked into full time, in-home nursing care. Gladys could not afford that, but Fiona and her husband had some money set aside for retirement. Maybe they should use it for in-home care.
As she prayed for guidance and for her mother to get better, Fiona also thought through what Gladys would choose if she understood the options. From years of conversations, Fiona knew that Gladys would not want Fiona and her husband to spend their own retirement savings to hire nurses to take care of her at home. If they had more than enough money to take care of themselves, Fiona was sure her mother would not mind if some of it were spent on in-home care; but Fiona was sure her mother would not want needed retirement money spent.
Fiona also knew that Gladys would not want one of her grandchildren to quit working in order to care for her, especially if she would not be aware of what they were doing. It became clear to Fiona that Gladys would want to be kept comfortable and safe using the resources she had set aside for that purpose. While Fiona grieved that her mother’s health had declined so far, she was confident that what Gladys would have chosen was consistent with God’s Word. Fiona moved her mother to the assisted living facility, and she visited her often.
Our parents may come to require the care and attention that small children need. Because the motions of feeding, dressing, toileting, and protecting an aging parent can be just like the motions of caring for a toddler, it is tempting to think that honoring an infirm parent is just like caring for a small child. But the decisions we make about the care of our parents and seniors are not like the decisions we make for our children. With our children, we choose according to what we believe is best for them. With our parents and seniors, we choose according to what they would believe is best for them, consistent with God’s Word. As Proverbs 1:8 reminds us, honoring and protecting our seniors means listening carefully to them. We honor them now by listening not only because they are sources of wisdom but also because their values must inform the choices we may one day make on their behalf: “Listen to your father who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old” (Prov. 23:22).