by Gaye Clark
I have an idea for a new reality TV show: Unassisted Living: An inside look at aging parents who refuse to move out of their home when they can no longer care for themselves.
“It’s paid for. That’s what Dad said about every suggestion I made to him about moving. His paid for house meant being independent, something he wanted to guard at all costs. Besides, moving one last time sounded like putting one foot in his grave. He didn’t see his “paid for” house as the danger I did. No amount of logic could make him see. I wasn’t dealing with his reason. I was reckoning with his fears—ones he tried hard not to face. On the one hand, he told me he was ready to meet God when he called. But if He called today? So, he clings to the familiar comforts of his paid for home.
With every visit to the house, I noticed the home’s slow demise mirrored my parent’s declining health. The once manicured lawn disappeared into a mound of weeds. The inside didn’t live up to my mother’s normal high standard of immaculate. It grew worse with each trip.
Ecclesiastes compares the aging process to a house:
When the keepers of the house tremble,
and the strong men stoop,
when the grinders cease because they are few,
and those looking through the windows grow dim. (Ecc 12:3).
Mom had refused cleaning services and Dad yard companies, firing everyone we kids had vetted. Never had I thought my folks would tolerate living in such a state. My dad tripped on the concrete steps on a rainy evening as he and mom headed out the door to get something to eat. (Yes, at 84, Dad still drives.) Their neighbor lamented, “I heard a knock on the door, and there’s your mom, standing out in the pouring rain, with her walker, trying to get help for your dad. It was awful.”
According to an AARP study, 87 percent of us would prefer to remain at home as we age. But unfortunately, this may not be the best decision for many people.
Google helping mom and dad move to assisted living and nursing homes and you will receive a great deal of advice (sponsored mostly by assisted living residences) about approaching your parents with respect, helping them see the advantages of their wonderful facilities, and a quick link to their brochures complete with a request for your contact information. Honestly, this isn’t the right approach. Again, logic for a resistant parent will not win the day.
Déjà Vu-And an Invitation to Empathize
As my own parents struggle with their health concerns, I have found myself having the same disagreements with them as my mother did with her mom. This gave me pause. Will my daughter and I be having this discussion in 25 years? And am I so arrogant to believe I will be far more reasonable than they when my daughter suggests it’s time for me to move out of my home? Did I not already bristle a bit when she offered to help me find a web page on the Internet, locate an app on my phone, or recall who I spoke with yesterday? Have I really considered how my parents feel considering all they are facing? My dad softened his tone when I acknowledged, “This is your home, and you get to decide what happens here.” He’s not ready to call the movers, but he’s less defiant.
Where is God at Work?
I’ve also found it helpful to recount what God may be doing right now in these circumstances, which will be for our family’s greater good. Even in frustrating family dynamics, God works. Find out where he may be already at work and join in his plan. Are there aspects of your circumstances for which you ought to be thankful? For example, my brother and I were of one mind on how we saw our parents situation. I remain extremely grateful for his wisdom, and input as we work together on how best to help our folks. When the situation felt hopeless, I remind myself I have a great sibling as an ally.
What God May Do in You
Three years ago, I downsized and relocated to be closer to my children and found the process difficult. When I located the right house, settled in, and paid for it, I felt relieved. And yet, I know this place is built on sinking sand.
Husbands die. Mine did. Bank accounts plummet. Our good health can evaporate despite all our best practices of diet and exercise. This world is passing away along with everything we place our trust in apart from Christ.
“Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation” (Isaiah 28:16).
Christ, the precious cornerstone stood beside me when I buried my husband. He has defended me against assaults of every kind, including my own foolish missteps. And when (it’s unlikely to be “if”) I can no longer live safely unassisted, I am praying now for the grace not to rest in the familiar comforts of my own temporary earthly home. “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”
Lord give me the grace to remember you, long after I have forgotten the words. Give me the heart to remember, you have paid for my real home in heaven, paid for in full.
Gaye Clark is a nurse case manager for Parkridge Health Systems. She writes in her free time. She is the widow of James Clark, mother of Anna Wiggins and Nathan Clark, and grandmother of three. You can follow her on Twitter.