Friday, May 24, 2013
By DELVYN C. CASE JR.
REFLECTIONS is a column written by members of Maine's faith-based community. Opinions expressed in the column reflect the author's view and not necessarily that of the newspaper.
These last nine months had been exhausting. Her mother had developed dementia, and Cindy had to manage not only her own affairs but those of her mother. Then, three months ago, when Cindy's mother was unable to manage her own home, she moved into assisted living.
At first Cindy was still able to take her mother to church regularly and to the mall for shopping trips with her girls, as well as bring her to her home for short visits. After some encouragement, her girls enjoyed taking Grandma shopping and teasing her how fashions had changed since she was a young girl.
Too soon, Cindy's mom required a wheelchair as her physical condition declined, and Cindy could not hazard getting her mother out of her wheelchair at the assisted living facility and into her car. It was heartbreaking to watch her mother fail mentally and physically so quickly, but at least she could communicate with her mother and share all that was going on in her own hectic life.
After returning home, Cindy drove over to the assisted living facility to visit Mom. The change in her mom's condition was dramatic. Her mother was slumped over in her wheelchair in the hallway. When addressed, her mother looked up vacuously and gazed around the room without focusing. There was no response when Cindy cried, "Mom, don't you know me?" Later, as Cindy began to tell her mother about her just-completed family trip, her mother looked squarely at Cindy and blurted out, "Who's Noah?" Vacation was over.
Cindy had lost her mom. All her life, she was able to communicate with her parents. Except for a short time during the predictively turbulent teenage years, she was always open to engage them in asking for their advice and counsel, particularly after Cindy married and had children. Once her dad died, her mom had become her confidante and friend. Over a cup of coffee Cindy and her mom may not have solved all the problems of the world, but they made headway on Cindy's day-to-day issues. Now, for the first time in her life, not only did Cindy not have any parent to talk with, but her mother was totally dependent upon Cindy to make all decisions for her. It was as if her mother had become Cindy's youngest child. What was Cindy to do?
How do we relate to our parents throughout the spectrum of our lives from the times as a child totally dependent upon them to a time that they may be totally dependent upon us? In the Ten Commandments given to Moses by God for our spiritual and social living, God declared, "Honor your father and mother" (Exodus 20:12).
There are three meanings for the Hebrew word honor used in the Ten Commandments: showing respect for, praising/admiring highly, and caring for.
As a child, we should show respect for our parents and obey their instructions.
As adults, we should praise and admire them as they continue in our lives as trusted advisers in our independent and family lives. With their experience and wisdom, they can offer much as we struggle with new challenges of adult living.
Increasingly, there is a third phase of honoring our parents, a time when our parents in advanced years may not be able to care for themselves and we may need to care for them. As with Cindy, they may become totally dependent upon us to make decisions regarding their living arrangements, finances, legal and estate matters, and end-of-life issues and decisions.
How will honoring our parents throughout life affect us? It goes well with us because the attitude of honoring our parents promotes a sense of well-being through developing positive relationships that contribute to longer life. This is also an attitude worthy of engendering in the next generation for their own sense of well-being.
Cindy picked up her keys and dropped them into her pocketbook. As she stepped from the mud room into the garage, her girls called out to her, "Mom, are you going to see Grandma? We wanna come."
Dr. Delvyn C. Case Jr. is a hematologist/oncologist, writer, playwright and director, and consultant to the Department of Spiritual Care at Maine Medical Center in Portland.