Ten years. That’s how long I stayed with my parents to help them as they aged and became more infirm. It was something I never imagined doing. I was the child who had moved out of state when I was in my early twenties and had visited just two weeks a year for forty years. I expected that my brother or sister would take care of my parents should they need help.
Then I visited one summer and saw my dad’s dementia was getting worse. Mom worked to provide a structure in which he could operate, and they were coping for the time being, but the strain was showing. Shortly before I drove back to my home in North Carolina, my dad asked the question I had not wanted to consider: Would I move back to Michigan and help them?
Of course not, I thought. I had a life of my own, after all. I taught psychology, worked as a therapist, volunteered in the community, was involved in a church, and had plenty of friends. Why would I leave all that?
On the other hand, it was something I could in fact make myself available for. I divorced fifteen years earlier and my two sons were both married and lived out of state. I could retire from teaching and make ends meet by working part-time as a therapist while living with my parents in Michigan.
Once I thought about it that way, I couldn’t wiggle out no matter how hard I tried. A few years before I had run across a passage by Simone Weil in which she said we should do only what we know to be our necessity. It became clear to me that helping my parents was my necessity. It also was consonant with my faith. Christians believe that God gave the Ten Commandments as rules of life for his chosen people, and that these still guide us today. Among the ten is the instruction to honor your father and mother. What does that mean? Douglas K. Stewart, in his commentary on the book of Exodus, explains it as follows:
“Although this word/commandment requires children to honor their parents in all sorts of ways large and small, there can be little doubt that its most basic insistence from the point of view of establishing a responsibility that might otherwise be shirked is to demand that children take care of their parents in their parents’ old age, when they are no longer able to work for themselves, as well as to honor whatever their parents have prescribed by way of inheritance for their children.”
Even I, with my well-developed capacity to rationalize doing what I want to do rather than what I should do, couldn’t evade my dad’s request. I was being called, and I responded. I taught one last year, putting in my resignation midway through. The following summer, I moved in with my parents.
My dad died two years later. At that point, my mom probably could have lived a couple years on her own, but even then it seemed best that someone live with her. I had left my full-time job already, so it made sense to stay longer. Mom died a month ago. Ten years after resettling, it would be impossible to reconstruct the remnants of my former life. I won’t be going back to that, and I’m done with my commitment to my parents. I’m trying to figure out what’s next. Whatever happens, I am glad that I came at my dad’s behest. I’ve had others tell me that not many people would have done what I did. That makes what I did sound more noble that it was. When I had reflected on my options, I realized I could live with one possible choice, but not with the other one. It wasn’t a hard decision. This next choice, that will probably be the difficult one.
 Stuart, D. K. (2006). Exodus (Vol. 2, p. 461). Broadman & Holman Publishers.