Mary Coleman: Caring for elderly parents


MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Monday, April 9th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from member-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. The U.S. population is aging.

At the turn of the 20th century, one in 25 Americans was over age 65. In the year 1994, the senior citizen population was one in 8. By 2050, it’ll be one in every five.

REICHARD: These numbers raise obvious questions about how we should care for the aging members of society.

WORLD Radio’s Mary Coleman grappled with this from personal experience. She’s here now with some observations.

MARY COLEMAN, COMMENTATOR: Caring for aging parents is a responsibility filled with blessings and challenges. For my husband and me, the journey began in 1995 after his mother Betty had a stroke at the age of 53. The stroke left her paralyzed on one side of her body.

Joe and I were in our mid-thirties at the time, and our eldest child of seven was only eleven years old. Like Joe’s parents, we never anticipated a major health crisis at this stage of our lives or theirs. Naturally, we supported dad’s decision to care for Betty in their home instead of placing her in a nursing facility. She was so young, and Dad was determined to make this arrangement work for the long haul.

Over time, however, Dad began to complain about how difficult this care-giving had become. Joe and I were so incredulous. After all, mom had regained some mobility with the use of a walker. She could be left alone for a few hours in their ranch house, and they secured half-day nursing care so dad could work.

Everything seemed to be situated to meet their needs quite well, but because we lived 90 minutes away, we really didn’t understand their hardships.

That changed when we offered to host Betty in our home for a week. After those five days, we understood the burden my father-in-law had been talking about.  Helping Betty with her very personal needs, preparing her food, and assisting her while she ate it, required patience and humility on her part and ours.

This experience softened our hearts.  For the first time, Joe and I sympathized over the sense of loss both of his parents were enduring. We wanted to support them more fully and began to consider ways to make it happen.

Soon after, Joe received a job offer that would move us to within 15 minutes of his parents’ house. We saw that as God’s provision for us and for them.

Our presence nearby lightened the load for dad. We prepared food for them and stepped in to stay with Betty so Dad could regain his social life. Betty was able to spend more time with her grandchildren, and the added bonus was that our kids saw first-hand what it means to sacrifice for family.

Should Joe and I ever need tending, I hope that our kids will reflect upon the example we set for them. I also hope they won’t be as hard on us as we were on Joe’s parents at first. The secret is out now.

We were selfish before the sacrifice kicked in.

Forgive us, Lord.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Mary Coleman.

 


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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