We can strengthen our families, communities, and nations by caring for our elderly loved ones. We can provide love and care for our parents and grandparents when they are unable to care for themselves. By doing so, we can learn patience and tolerance while also gaining from the wisdom of our elderly loved ones.
When God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses on the mountain, He included a commandment about how we should treat our parents. He said, “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee” (Exodus 20:12). The placement of this commandment should illustrate the importance of it. The first four commandments are about our relationship with God, and the last six commandments are about our relationships with our brothers and sisters here on earth. The commandment to honor our parents is number five; it comes first among the commandments about dealing with our fellow men and before all the “Thou shalt nots”.
I know from personal experience that caring for elderly parents is not always easy or pleasant. My mother passed away at age 70, while she could still care for herself. My father lived until age 88 and had some health problems, including a stroke. My wonderful sister-in-law insisted that Dad moved in with my brother’s family, and he spent the last ten years or so of his life in their home. In fact, they built a larger home and made a room especially for Dad. I know that having Dad in their home was challenging at times, but they took care of him until the day he died.
My husband’s parents needed more care. Mom suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for the last ten years of her life. She had always been a busy and happy person, but her personality and abilities changed as the disease progressed. We actually lost her about five years before her actual death. Dad took care of her as best he could, but he had his own health problems. When he needed more help, we hired caregivers to come into their home. Those arrangements lasted a year or two before we needed to do something else. Mom and Dad lived far from any of their children, and Dad wanted to remain independent as long as possible. Mom got to the point that she needed more help than she could get at home, and we put her in a nursing home. Dad visited her every day until he lost his ability and right to operate a vehicle. It was at that point that the family moved Mom and Dad into the home of their daughter. She cared for them for several years until they both needed more nursing help than she could provide. My husband and I spent many months helping to care for them both before and after they needed a nursing home. Dad passed away about fifteen months before Mom died. As you can see, I know a little bit about caring for elderly parents!
Adult children understand the importance of caring for elderly parents but also feel an additional burden in doing so. This is particularly true of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who understand the importance of family relationships and want to follow the counsel of Church leaders.
President Ezra Taft Benson (1899-1994) told members to “give their elderly parents and grandparents the love, care, and attention they deserve” (“To the Elderly in the Church,” Ensign, Nov. 1989, pp. 6-7).
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, “When aged parents who are not able to live alone are invited to live with their children, this keeps them in the family circle and allows them to continue their close ties with all members of the family” (“Honour Thy Father and Thy Mother,” Ensign, May 1991, p. 16).
A friend had the responsibility and blessing of caring for her aging mother in her home and did so for many years. I admired her for doing so even while her husband was transferred from Alaska to Texas to Utah. There was always room in their home and in their hearts for caring for her mother.
“One blessing of modern medicine is the greatest life expectancy in modern history. But this blessing also presents challenges for many as they wrestle with the realities of caring for an aging or otherwise dependent loved one.” (See Todd F. Cope, “Providing Care for Elderly Loved Ones,” Ensign, September 2013, p. 68.)
Cope then proceeded to share some ideas about caring for elderly loved ones that he has learned from personal experience and as a professional caregiver. “I regularly meet with people who feel trapped between their sense of obligation to care for aging loved ones and the realities of life.” He suggests the following ideas.
1) Do the best that you can in your situation. The admonition is for children to care for their elderly parents, but it does not mean that the children have to personally provide the care in every case. “For some, care may be provided in the form of personal assistance at the bedside; for others, it may be in the form of financial or other personal resources. We must simply provide in the best way we can after counseling with the Lord and other family members.
2) Remain actively involved with caring for your parents even if they must be placed in an appropriate care facility. “Regardless of the care arrangements, remain actively involved in our loved one’s life. This involvement will vary with individual circumstances, but consistent, meaningful association will be a blessing to you and your loved one.”
My husband and I spent many hours visiting his mother in the nursing home. One day while we were there, one of the attendants said, “I wish all of our patients had as many visitors as Charlotte does.” I had been feeling guilty because there was not much I could do for Mom, but I immediately understood the importance of just being there with her.
3) Turn to the Lord for direction in making the difficult decisions. He understands the situation. Remember, He faced the responsibility of arranging for His mother to be cared for in her time of need. (See John 19:26-27.) When our parents become elderly, our positions are reversed and we assume stewardship for our parents. We have the right and the responsibility to seek guidance from the Lord.
The circumstances and needs of each parent are different. My father had sufficient funds to meet his needs in his later years, but he needed companionship and someone to make sure his needs were met. He was able to feed and dress himself until the day he died. My husband’s parents not only had health problems, but they also had financial problems.
Another friend belonged to a family of six children. When her aged mother needed help, her father said, “Your mother cared for six children; surely, her six children can take care of her.”
I believe that the most important thing we can do for our aging parents is to make sure they know that they are not alone in their old age or with their illness. Our parents understood that they needed help and were willing to give up their independence, but they needed to know that we loved them and would be there for them whenever and however they needed us. I know that we can strengthen our families, communities, and nations by caring for our aging parents and grandparents.