Janet came to Williamsburg on Sunday and I drove here from Knoxville today. It’s been kind of a strange spring. My mother-in-law broke her pelvis when she fell backward off a step and has been recovering near their home at a rehab facility designed to care for people who are recovering from those sorts of issues. The longer she was there, the more it became evident that the care she was receiving was really a great thing for her spirit, her physical limitations and her outlook on the future. Although nobody would look forward to a time in their lives of losing some of their independence, the realities of life and aging are such that sooner or later, if we live that long, chances are we will be on the receiving end of the care my mother-in-law is now getting adjusted to.
My father-in-law continued to live in their home until he too became convinced that perhaps it was time to give up the house and move into the center with his wife. Although generally healthy, both of my in-laws have various health issues and so it appears the time has come for them to give up the independence of living in their own home and accept the help of staff who can assist to make their lives easier. Several weeks ago, a two bedroom suite became available and they decided to take it and once again move in together – the way they have lived for more than 65 years now.
For most of my life, I have heard about the sandwich generation – those people who take care of children on one end and aging parents as well. Then Saturday night, at church, I heard the best message on this topic I have ever heard. The truth of the matter is that I never thought that I would deal with any of these issues. After all, my Dad died at 55 and Mom passed away at 73. Dad succumbed to cancer and Mom finally lost her battle with complications from geriatric MS. When you lose your parents so young, something inside you changes a little and you don’t think as much about elder care – after all, you’ve faced those challenges already – in my case, when I was 25, with my father.
I have known my in-laws, John and Nancy, since I was in kindergarten. So even when my own parents failed to reach old age, Janet’s folks remained healthy and apparently immune from the frailties of growing older. But the last several years, I have watched John and Nancy slow down a step or two and that irrepressible flame in their lives has started to flicker a little. I have watched Janet and her sisters deal with health issues as well, and little things that I have noticed starting to go wrong in my own body. Just the inevitable signs that as we are growing older, so are our parents…
There’s nothing terminal or even earth shattering here – just the realization that we are all getting older and things that I never thought I would have to deal with are suddenly appearing on the horizon in clear focus. It’s tough to watch John and Nancy deal with illness and a partial loss of independence. I have known my father-in-law as a confident business owner and executive – mentally alert and in full control of his faculties. Now I can see him facing the challenges of the next phase of his life – and I know that while he intellectually knows the best course of action – his heart just can’t accept it.
We don’t talk about it much – I guess it is one of those topics that you just don’t put out there on the table. But as I have watched him for more than the 55 years I have known him, he is attempting to accept the realities of the situation with grace and dignity. I call him regularly to see how he is doing and to keep him informed as to what is happening in my corporate life. We discuss contracts and teams and workloads and travel – all the things that he has done so successfully since he started his own company back in 1965, when I was 12. While Janet travels out east at least 4 times a year, I have started to ramp up the number of times that I join her.
I am trying to balance the fact that I love John and Nancy with the reality that Janet is their daughter – and I’m not a blood relative. I know from my experiences with our own children that there are times when you just want your own kids around – not the entire family. I’m not offended by this but I do wish that I could visit more often. Perhaps the time has come that Janet and I will travel out there together to help a little more as the years continue.
More than anything, I hope that I learn the lessons of life from John and Nancy and as my own time for aging approaches more rapidly, I can accept the challenges with the grace and dignity that they have exhibited. What a life lesson… and gift from my in-laws.
The verse for this evening is from the Book of Exodus – one of the 10 commandments. From Exodus 20:12, “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” Did you realize that this is the first commandment to have a promise included? Well, it is… My encouragement this evening is that everyone can do a better job honoring the generations who have gone ahead of us. Lord know that at times loving parents well isn’t as easy as it looks in the Scripture. My prayer is that you will persevere and that you will help to make the years of aging years that are full of joy and that you will be drawn closer to your family – including your parents and children, in the process. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…