Loving My Aging Parents Well

Stepping up to love our parents in a new way ... it's hard. These 4 steps for loving my aging parents well are a great start!

My Daddy has always been larger than life to me. His happy-go-lucky vibrancy for life, his love for laughter and strong sense of adventure always brought me security and joy. He was always ready to offer me time, a listening ear and any help I needed. When we began to notice changes in his personality, a dulling of the vibrancy, insecurities we had never seen before, forgetfulness, we began to suspect that something was wrong.

Then he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

I am now in the process of saying a long goodbye. How can I scratch the surface to love him? This relationship that was forged in love and built through the years on a foundation of love? As I see him decline and change, these are a few encouragements I can pass on if you find yourself in the middle of loving an aging parent.

How I’m loving my aging parent:

Cry and laugh, but laugh more.

You will shed many tears, allow yourself the freedom to laugh – a lot. Daddy was always super active. You name it, and he has probably tried it. I remember running together one time while I was still in college. I’ll never forget him huffing and puffing and saying, “I hope I drop dead one day of a heart attack while running.”  I quickly reprimanded him for this morbid comment, and he laughed but made for sure I knew he was serious. As he is now confined to a wheelchair and has to be pushed wherever he goes, I better understand the sentiment of his comment years ago.

The last time I ran with my Daddy, I was his caregiver.  Later that day, when my sister was picking him up from my house, he told her that he had run with a “pretty lady, a real pretty lady.”  I said, “Daddy, that was me!” We all laughed.

Let go of expectations.

Get over the idealized version constructed in your mind years ago of how you would like to handle things for your aging parent. We can sometimes paint an idealistic version of how we want to love and care for our aging parents. Most of the time, this consists of entirely unrealistic expectations that do not fit our current circumstance.

The sooner you can face the here and now and ask God how you can best love your immediate family and also love your aging parent well, the better off everyone will be. It is hard to love well if you are struggling with guilt or wishing things were different.  Love in the here and now of what is.

Fight the urge to believe the lie you are alone.

As we experience this stage, it is so new, different and sad to grapple with this role reversal, that our grief can take us down unhealthy paths. I have often felt as if no one could possibly understand what I am enduring which leads to self-pity. Yes, I am the only “Baby Beth” dealing with her Daddy’s Alzheimer’s disease, but at the same time, this suffering has allowed me to enter into a new realm.

It is as if I have joined the ranks of the sea of suffering around the world. Linking arms and growing in a deeper understanding of the hurting of humanity and the beautiful suffering of my Savior.  Jesus has been with me. Jesus has met me intimately as I have poured myself out to love my Daddy. Jesus has met me through the love, prayers, listening and care of the body of Christ. I have never been alone. You will not be alone.

Don’t underestimate what your love can do.

When my Daddy was still able to live at home, it became increasingly difficult for my stepmom to help my Daddy with his personal care needs. I remember the first time she called and asked me for help in this area. As I drove to their house, I knew that I was going to help in new, uncomfortable ways. I was nervous. I didn’t feel ready for this.

I asked God for strength and help. To my relief, He graciously supplied it to meet the need of the moment. Just as naturally as a mother cares for a child, I was able to care for my Daddy. As I was humbly willing, the spirit of Christ enabled me. The love of Christ in you is deeper and stronger than you think. It will flow through you and transform you as you love in new and challenging ways.

We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed…Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:8,16 (NIV)

I don’t know how long this goodbye will last. Sometimes I get discouraged and wonder, “How long, Lord?” He gently and lovingly reminds me this long goodbye will not outlast His unending grace. I can already envision my Daddy fully restored in heaven: mind, body and soul. He is smiling his contagious smile with that dimple flashing. He is giggling and running with Jesus. Until that day, I will keep on loving and receiving love.

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Stepping up to love our parents in a new way ... it's hard. These 4 steps for loving my aging parents well are a great start!

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Beth Patrick: I am Beth Patrick, beloved daughter of God the Father. I am wife to Frank, a pastor and part-time professor. I am mama to four wonderful kiddos ranging from 18 to 8.  I am a math teacher to homeschool students. I am in my “happy place” digging in the dirt in my flower garden or pounding my feet on the pavement. I am in the middle of finding grace through it all.

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  • Good words here, Beth. My sister and I have been saying that long goodbye for 7+ years now. There have been times to laugh and many to cry. We try to focus on the good care mama receives and yes, we ask God how long? We believe that while her earthly body lingers, her soul and spirit, what made her her, is celebrating with Jesus. Tapping her foot to heaven’s music.

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