Being God-centered and other-centered makes all the difference in the world.
|When Parents Grow Up
By Marilyn Mackenzie
April 6, 2002
Many baby boomers have just a fleeting glance at the empty nest before having mom and dad become the next dependents. Many are faced with decisions that go hand in hand with having aging parents.
Last evening, my sisters and I laughed and cried together about our past, present and future, and reminisced about our lives and the lives of our parents as we discussed what might be best for our dad. (See "My Father the Child.") Our father has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
Our mother has depended on dad for so many things over the years. She’s in a state of denial about the severity of dad’s condition. Mom hasn't driven a car in years, and she realizes that her independence is vanishing with dad’s inability to stay focused in the real world for large pieces of time.
As I pondered these things during my visit with my parents, I also thought about the lives they have lived for the past 53 years, and I was actually quite saddened.
I wondered if they'd ever shared dreams and visions. As I reviewed their lives in my mind, it appeared to me that although they'd lived together for so many years, they had done so as totally separate individuals. I doubted they had ever been a truly happy and connected functioning unit, or that they'd ever been soul mates. What a sad revelation.
As a young couple, newly married, I imagined that each was still defined by a job. She sought recognition for her brain power in the insurance world. Many men could appreciate her beauty and physical attributes. In the business world, her skills and brain were appreciated as well. He, the tradesman, was appreciated for his strength and skilled hands. From the beginning, they shared few interests. She enjoyed music and literature; he preferred bowling and drinking as pastimes.
Once they began having children, her focus became the children and keeping the home. But she wasn't fulfilled in those roles and longed, again, for the glory of the working world. He had to work harder to support his growing family, and feeling unappreciated for his increased efforts, he anticipated the weekends, when he could drink his cares away.
And so the years passed.
Perhaps for a brief time once they retired, my parents shared a common thread or interest. Their first few weeks were spent traveling the United States and visiting friends and relatives. Oddly to me, their photo albums don't reflect that they traveled the U.S. together. Where are the desert pictures? They surely passed through the desert on the way cross-country to visit California relatives. Where are the mountain pictures, pictures of mountains they traversed to visit friends and relatives in Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina? From their photo records, one would never know that they shared this experience together. Because they never learned to stop and share the beauty and wonder of the journey itself or the experience of getting to somewhere, they soon grew tired of their travels.
When they settled into Florida retirement, they went their separate ways once more. He played cards, pitched horseshoes, and learned to play shuffleboard. She returned to work, still seeking fulfillment and appreciation from a source other than her God or her spouse.
And the years passed once more.
Now another life stage has begun, as dad has begun seeing big white rabbits in the yard, bugs on the table, and cars racing up and down the walls. Lacking a real foundation of love, a real connection all these years, Mom cannot laugh with him at the silliness of his visions.
We, his daughters, can take him lovingly by the hand to prove that the snakes he sees in the yard are merely twigs that have fallen from the trees. Or we can inquire what the kids he sees behind every chair in the house are wearing. We can ask what he means when he says that there are three Mom’s in the house.
Sometimes his visions aren't really that farfetched at all. In the case of the three Mom’s, he said there was one who gets all "dolled up" to go out. He said that Mom doesn't appear very much any more. The others he sees don't bother to try looking nice. I guess they think he doesn't see. But he does. According to Dad, one of the others is rather mean and one nice. His observation of Mom’s reaction to his illness is not that far off at all.
Because there was never a real heart and soul connection between this couple who lived most of their lives together, the wife can consider tossing the husband into a nursing home without much thought. That was my mother’s plan for my father before I arrived on the scene to access the situation.
Dad’s welfare was not her concern at all. Instead, her worry was whether or not she was getting enough sleep. Solutions such as getting nursing care at night when he’s apt to wander the halls were ignored, though. Besides not wanting a stranger in the house, she has another worry. Her second concern is about money – how much will be left for her comfort and security. She just might prefer getting little sleep and thus showing her temper at the sightings of things only he can see, rather than spending money on someone to help out. (I'm not sure how she thought getting him admitted to a nursing home wouldn't cost money…)
I love both of my parents dearly. But I can't help but think that if the wedding vows had been taken seriously, if these two had been true soul mates from the beginning, that she would want to see to his comfort in his illness.
There are certainly lessons to be learned here. I was right to talk with God, to insist that if I was ever to find love again that it would be, must be, someone with whom I could share almost everything. My love mate, my soul mate, and I must take seriously the vows of marriage. As we creep into another life stage ourselves, the words "in sickness and in health" must surely hold a new meaning for us.
Perhaps, though, the biggest lesson I've learned from my parents is a very simple one indeed. For, if God had been the center of each one’s life, the years may certainly have passed differently. Today would be different as well.
The minutes and hours passed as I pondered these things, getting ready to travel back to my own home.
My soul mate and I must share one very important thing. We must love and serve God first, must seek to follow Christ in all that we do, and have the Holy Spirit as our Guide and Comforter. Because of these things, we will share something each and every day for the rest of our lives.
Faced with decisions such as my parents face now, our children will see a different story, a different ending. Being God-centered and other-centered makes all the difference in the world.
Copyright 2002 Marilyn Mackenzie