No matter how long our parents live, our humanness kicks in, and we do not want them to leave. We may feel we deserved more time with them, and that it was just too soon for them to leave us. As our parents move into the latter senior years, their lives often seem frustrated as they can no longer function as they did during their active years. Just as each of our parents are unique and deal with their mortality differently, so do the family members, so there is no perfect solution that works for everyone. I wish to share my personal story with my father, and in doing so, perhaps evoke ideas that may assist your family in your time of need.
My father has been ill for several years now. He spent a year and a half bed-ridden with Hospice and a care provider. He rebounded and graduated out of the Hospice program, but has recently started to decline again. My father is a very spiritual person and appears to be very comfortable talking about his remaining days with us as well as taking care of his personal wishes after he is gone. Some may say he is on borrowed time, but he sees each morning he awakes as a gift from God and feels there is a reason that he is still here and takes on the challenge of attempting to decipher why.
Since I live four states away from my father, it is not possible to visit him as often as I want. Yet, I have come to treasure my memories of him and with him, and have spent the past several years making the most out of our visits. In doing so, I have attempted to create lasting memories for each of us. And what an amazing part of existence are those memories! They allow us to momentarily recapture youth, relive triumphs, and evokes the life-force that deeply connects us with each other. In a way, each moment of reality is fleeting, yet our memories are treasured images this will remain with us for a very long time.
Throughout the years, I found the following seven ideas particularly meaningful and hope it will provide insight into how each has assisted me in creating special memories:
Every day at 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. central time, I call my Dad. Speaking with him allows me the opportunity to assess how he is feeling by simply hearing his voice. The calls also provide him something to look forward to, and gives me the chance to share my everyday events with him. Although, I may not see him as often as I would like, I feel he knows more about me than anyone else. He repeatedly celebrates my triumphs with great pride. His favorite catch line (and mine) is “I knew you could do it, you make me proud.”
It is not always about me, sometimes he just needs to talk. Elderly parents need to vent their frustrations just as we do. Let them talk, and hear what they say. Often, when things are bothering my Dad, he simply needs a non-judgmental ear. This provides him the opportunity to clear his mind and vent. These conversations often leave him calmer and his blood pressure lowered.
Create Special Events
For Father’s Day a year ago, I took Dad and his care giver on a three day vacation to Wilmington, North Carolina, staying at the Riverfront Hilton. He had been bedridden until that time. During the course of 3 days we visited places he had taken our family during my childhood. It was a special, intimate and magical time for my father and me. It allowed us to celebrate each other as adults while reliving our past. Plus, we ate as much fresh seafood as we could find. I highly recommend this to anyone.
Last year my father asked me to help him write his obituary. While some may not want to think about such things, it reflected his spiritual side and was most rewarding. We sat down and went through everything in his life. In researching dates of life milestones and the details of career appointments it felt like I came to know my father in a new way. It was very empowering because I learned things about him that I knew, but not in such depth. More than that, in researching and writing together, I saw by the light in his eyes what was most important to him. It was also a boost to him as he relived his life accomplishments. You do not need to have this be an obituary, but simply a biography of events.
Give Permission to Pass
My father confessed to me that he is not frightened of the thought of dying. If your parent is talking about not being here much longer seize the opportunity to have an adult conversation. Ask them why they believe their passing is near and ask what are their concerns (believe me, they have them and want to talk about them). Tell them they will know when it’s time to go and that when they are ready, they have your love and permission. I shared with my Father that as Christians, we both knew where he was going and that we would be together again in the future.
What Would You Say at Their Service
A few years ago I penned some thoughts that I would like shared at Dad’s service. I did this in advance of an extended trip abroad. Our family minister safeguarded it just in case something happened while I was away. He later asked me if I had shared these thoughts with my Father. At the time, I had not. During my last visit, we were sitting on his porch. He again started talking about things he wanted included in his service. Asking him if he wanted to hear what I would say, he stated yes. I retrieved my laptop, and said a silent prayer, “God, please help me.” I was surprised at my composure as it did not get emotional, Dad heard firsthand thoughts of him, and he loved it. It also empowered me because I was able to joyously share our journey through the years and how he has impacted my life.
My suggestion here is to ask yourself the question, what would I say at my parent’s service? Then, put on your adult big-boy pants, and tell them face to face. I can assure you through experience, it will be one of the most rewarding things you ever do.
Thank them for everything they have done for you and created in you. Describe tangibly how they live on in you. For me I have rules I apply daily to my life. I call them Billy O’s (my Dad’s name). These are the moments in my everyday life where my father shines through in the things I do, or say.
Preserve Their Voice
For several years, I had a re-occurring desire to tape a prayer by my father. I kept putting it off because I thought he might think I thought he was dying, and I did not want to upset him. Several months ago while visiting him we were by ourselves, enjoying some private, personal time together. He mentioned to me how proud he was of all the things I was doing, and he wanted me to know he prayed for me daily. I thought to myself, now is the time. I always keep a tape recorder with me on long trips to brainstorm ideas for Southern Heirlooms. I stopped to pick up dinner for the family, handed him the tape recorder, and asked him to say a prayer for me that I could listen to daily during my morning devotions. I will treasure his voice, his heart, his faith and his love for me forever.
In closing, I realize everyone is different and may feel they cannot do some of the things I have mentioned. My advice is simple, step back, act and think as an adult, not the child of your parent. Do not think about the sad event we will all have to face, but the exciting moment of opportunity that is immediately in front you.
Creating lasting memories for an aging parent is a beautiful endeavor, which allows you to capture and hold the love shared between the two of you. Appreciate all that your family has done for you. Thank them, and may it give you strength to focus on the most significant qualities, those you will never forget. Consider that these qualities are part of the legacy left to you. Creating these wonderful memories allows your parent to live within you, forever.
One last comment, I shared this blog with my Father. He loved it
With a Heart Full of Gratitude,
© Dr. Ken Rivenbark 2016