Monday, August 23, 2010

The Grasshopper Drags Himself Along--Along With the Adult Child

Recently, I was called upon to parent my parent. This came during a recent trip to help my mother get out of rehabilitation and back into her long-time home. Since I have not reared children, this was a radically new experience. This is not the teacher-student relationship. That I understand (to some degree). This is not the preacher-congregation relationship. That I understand (to some degree). Rather, it is an adult child having to coach, coax, and prod an ailing and out-of-sorts (but brave and tough) elderly parent. As the younger mortal, I have abilities--mental and physical--that are waning for my dear mother; thus, I am the one to do the research, make some tough decisions, and insist on some things she would rather not do--along with her loving husband of eighteen years.

One feels inadequate, stretched, and--at times--desperate. Yet I found that God encouraged me through some passages in Psalm 25 ("in you I put my hope all day long") and in the general sense that God was present and working through it all. Things have declined further since I left after my not quite one-week trip there. The progress she made has been lost and she is back in the hospital. And I am a thousand miles away, beginning a more than a full-time teaching load.

Most adult children will weather this kind of lamentable endeavor as they and their parents age. While some are derelict in their duties, it is a divinely-appointed time to reflect on one's own mortality and morbidity (see Ecclesiastes 12), and to depend on the strength and wisdom from above to navigate some unfamiliar and unpleasant circumstances (James 1). Yet all should be done within the imperative to "honor your mother and father" and to "love your neighbor as yourself." But this must not be in our own strength, but rather "yet not I, but Christ who lives within me."

The grasshopper, once so young and spry and sassy, now drags herself along--or has to be lifted and dragged by others (Ecclesiastes 12). We watch and lament, seeing in this elderly mortal an image of our own decay and degradation (should we make it that far). Prayers seem to bounce off heaven and ricochet back on our heads.


  1. Having lost both my parents in the past two years - both near the end of March: 2009, 2010 - after long declines, I have an intimate acquaintance with your story. For some, like you, the love for Christ and of a child for a parent carries them through this difficult period. Unfortunately, for many, conflicted relationships, histories of various types of abuse, etc., complicate and fracture the relationships. It is a gift and a blessing to be able to look after a declining parent with love and appreciation for their lifetime commitment to you. I wish it were so for all adult children of declining parent.

  2. Dr. Groothuis:

    I have experienced some of what you describe and my heart goes out to you.

    I will be praying for you and your mother today. The Lord is the "God who comforts the downcast." (2 Corinthians 7:6)

  3. "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows." (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)

  4. It is a long journey for a child to parent a parent, whether the decline is long or short. Sometimes there are no good answers in the decisions we must make. Of course, there are lessons for us and we may even put some of the lessons into direct practice. It is hard enough to care for loved ones when we are at hand, but almost impossible when we are at a distance and working, too. And then the added responsibility of being with one who is chronically ill...Do you spend your energy on the one who is dying or the one who is living? I sat at my mother's bedside rocking my adult, chronically ill daughter trying to be there for both. The memories are precious, but the actuality can depress even the most faithful. I tried not to ask "Why?" and many times cried out "Help me. Do something!" I am praying for you and your family.