‘To care for those who cared for us is one of the highest honors.’ Tia Walker
I have the privilege of having both my parents and my husband’s parents around. This is an honor that I do not take for granted, knowing very well that there are those that do not have one or any surviving parents. I hope and pray for continued strength for those who have lost these loved ones along the way.
My husband’s parents live fairly close, around 30-40 minutes away from us, and it is therefore easier to check up on them compared to my parents who live three hours (on a good traffic day) away.
As we get older our parents are too. This is abundantly clear when we visit them. Their physical appearance has changed over the years (though I must admit they look good for their ages). Their ability to carry out certain activities has also changed. Other areas of their lives have been affected as well.
As you grow older, your health becomes a challenge and may give in to different issues. Few elderly people are able to live without health issues. There are those affected by terminal illnesses and we can find it unfair that they are going through the kind of pain we see.
There is the impact of reduced income or lack of cashflow. If employed, incomes are significantly reduced upon retirement. If anything affects the proprietor of a business due to age or health, this can impact income negatively, especially if there are no structures for business continuity.
Parents face loneliness arising from the fact that their children are out of the nest. Houses that were full of people and energy are now quiet and empty. Visits from their children are now few and far between. A few parents are able to benefit from having other relatives live with them and therefore have company at home. This can only be a delight if those they live with do not stress their lives.
The elderly have been hardest hit during the pandemic. The restrictions placed are aimed at protecting their health but they have also isolated them from things they love(d) doing, e.g. spending time with their children and grandchildren, going to church, participating in social gatherings.
All these issues can greatly affect their mental, emotional and physical health.
If you are in your late 30s and above, you may find yourself in this unusual space.
So how can we take care of our parents? A few pointers.
1. Visit. Spend time with your parents because they appreciate the meaningful time together.
2. Talk. Call them or write to them. Utilise the digital platforms. Tell them you love them. Seek out their wisdom about life – how did they get to where they are? What lessons have they learnt? What useful information can they pass down to other generations? The glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old. Proverbs 20.29
3. Support. Care genuinely for their wellbeing. Do not neglect them in their old age.
4. Financial support. You do not have to send a lot of money but include some of their needs in your budget. Remember that their incomes are reduced. However, please do what you can within your abilities. Honor them in big and small ways, e.g. fueling their cars, buying gifts, partnering with them in their projects at home. If you are married, seek to align any financial support granted to family.
5. Medical. Try as much as possible to go with them for medical treatment. Why? You will be able to explain to the doctor the health challenges and also seek to understand the treatment prescribed. Where you can, be involved in decisions and financial support around their medical insurance.
6. Reconcile. Some people have had tumultuous relations with their parents. I admit, not all parents raise their children in the best way. I bet most parents will acknowledge that they could have done better, but only did what they thought was best. Where the differences are irreconcilable, pray and release them.
7. Caregiver. Assess if they need help around the home and support in that regard.
8. Succession. One of the hardest conversations to have with your parents, or anyone for that matter, is how they would want their affairs to be handled or distributed upon their demise. African culture frowns upon such talk as it may be seen as ‘inviting’ death. Such conversations though are necessary, where possible. Encourage the parents to write wills.
It is best to manage these issues with the support of the wider family and assess what would be best and practical. Align with your spouse and siblings.
My father gave me a few guidelines to consider because this season will be upon me as well:
1. Plan for retirement. Cashflow is limited or dwindling and may not meet some of the basic needs. Seek other passive income earlier.
2. Build relationships with your family as these will be crucial during your retirement phase. Family relations are lasting and if not taken care of properly, can cause one to lead a lonely life.
3. Have reliable friends. Friendships can be seasonal. Some will exploit you because of your current status. Give your heart fully to your family. In your old age, which friendships will you have retained?
‘How can we best take care of the elderly in our midst? ‘Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially those who belong to the family of believers.’ – Galatians 6:10
‘How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life, you will have been all of these.‘ – George Washington Carver