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.
I can’t begin to explain how much your story, your telling of it, means to me. The factors you weighed ten years ago and how you landed on a decision. Your confidence ten years later that you made the right one. Your speaking of your ‘necessity’. (I happened to read the passage in Mark this morning where Jesus was telling the disciples it was ‘necessary’ for the Son of Man to suffer.)
We just moved my mom to Durham from Seattle. Your story is right on time for me.
Grace and peace to you as you wait on God to show you your next necessity. I’m eager to hear how your story unfolds from here.
Thanks so much for the affirmation, dw. I hope that your mom is settling in well in her new home. I understand the doubts and uncertainties that arranging that must have prompted in you.
Thank you for sharing your story with us, especially about the decision you made and the process you took to support your parent’s time in need during the past decade. It certainly was a noble, loving, and caring demonstration of your love for them. Regarding your future decisions about what to do for your next decade, your own words speak loudly to me, “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.”
Although you do not need my advice, I thought I would share with you what I would do. First, there is the process of identifying the choices you could make such as staying where you are and build on the life you have developed there. (Of course you could always move closer to one of your friends and build upon your friendship with them, living in a warmer climate like Florida.) But in all seriousness what truly seems to draw you is family. I can only imagine your children & grandchildren who you dearly love would want you to live close to one of them. Of course that in itself could be a difficult decision – which one to live close to.
Second, after you listed you choices and “reflected” on your options I believe it may not be as hard of a decision as it seems now. Because in the end, you will decide which choice that you know in your heart and soul the choice you could best live with regardless what it looks like to anyone else.
I am also interested in following your life story as it unfolds.
Thanks so much for reading and giving input, Brian. Eventually, decisions do become clear. It can take quite a bit of time and work to get to that point, though!
Yes, that is true, but you have never shied-away from work. Time is always a factor but I’m confident you will work all the details out one step at a time. I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers.
Yes, I’m fine with whatever work it takes. I do so appreciate your prayers.
Keep in touch. You can contact me anytime. I will keep you in my prayers. We have been colleagues/friends for 41 years this month. I think that qualifies for something. I will always consider you a friend.