As far as I know, there is no age limit on the biblical command to honor our parents. Throughout the Bible we see grown people showing deep respect for their parents. One fact about getting old that we all must face is getting slower both physically and mentally. This is a nasty fact of life. As adult children, it is our duty, honor and privilege, to continue to honor our parents as they face these latter years. There are five great ways that we as adults can and should show this to them. Most of these “ways” will specifically deal with honoring aging parents with dementia.
1. Be Willing to Do Anything to Take Care of Them No Matter What
Every situation is unique. There are a seemingly limitless amount of family situations. It might simply be more practical for other siblings or family members to have a more hands-on, lead role in taking care of them than you. But if your parent or parents are in need of assistance, you do need to have a hand in deciding what to do. You and your siblings and family need to agree on what needs to be done. For my own family, the role of primary caregivers went to me and my elder sister since we are single and my brother and other sister are married and have family obligations of their own. Things may not look exactly like this for you—or not at all like this.
The point is, you need to be willing to do whatever it takes to make arrangements for your aging parent to be completely cared for. This may mean massively rearranging your life to benefit theirs. It may mean arranging for their continuing care with your dying breath. Jesus did this very thing while he was dying on the cross. As he was being tortured to death, he instructed his trusted disciple, John, to take care of her as if she were his own mother (John 19:26-27). That right there is a heartbreakingly inspirational example of full commitment to do what it takes to care for a parent. And if our suffering Savior was willing to take care of his parent, shouldn’t you?
2. Express Your Love Frequently.
Mom has been gone almost seven years and although he still has a lot to offer, my 80-year-old dad is slowing down both mentally and physically. I am convinced that one of the very best things a child can do is to shower his or her parent with love with frequent hugs, quality time, and an abundant quantity of their own particular love language. Tap into this love language and love them with it with all of your heart. For my dad, it’s hugs and acts of service. I spend all day helping my dad, so technically I have acts of service covered. But it is easy to get absorbed with my own work, though, and zone out his constant questions and repetitive statements. So really, can most of it really be considered quality time? I think not. I’m working on this.
Really spend time with them and patiently listen to and answer the things they say a million times every day. They may not remember it, but again, it is your duty, honor, and privilege to actively honor your parent with abundant love until one of you dies.
3. Be Patient.
This may be the most difficult thing to do consistently. The slower your parent gets both mentally and physically requires that you do a whole lot of patiently waiting. It means that you will have to repeat yourself over and over, that you will hear questions and stories over and over, that you will spend hours helping them do a simple task. And those are just some examples.
There is a very, very good chance that you will frequently want to run down the road screaming and pulling out your hair. There is also a very good chance of you getting angry with them and wanting to say something mean and disrespectful. Don’t. Just don’t. (I’m working on this as well.) Remember, this is your parent, the one you have been commanded to honor. Plus, this is the person who raised you, who potty trained you, who wrestled with you, who playfully stuck your foot in his or her mouth when you were a baby, who helped you with your homework, who took you to doctors and dentists, who sent you through school, and a million other things. And they did this all with dedication and patience. Now it’s your turn.
4. Preserve Their Honor
One of the oldest stories in the Bible involves the disgrace of a child for failing—or even attempting—to preserve his father’s honor. Not long after Noah and his family came out of the ark, he started a vineyard. He got drunk from the proceeds one night and lay naked in a drunken stupor. Ham saw this sad state of his father and instead of preserving his honor, he went and joked about it with his brothers. They did the honorable thing and immediately took steps to restore it.
Your parent or parents might become in a state where it will be your duty to preserve their honor in the eyes of the world. You will also need to preserve it in your own eyes. Shem and Japheth’s actions involved covering up their father’s nakedness while at the same time making sure they themselves didn’t look at it. You may be their last guardian of any dignity. There may unfortunately be times when it is not possible to save them from some indignity. Do the very best that you can for as long as you can. Guard their honor faithfully and with full commitment.
5. Let Them Have As Much Independence as Possible for as long as possible, but be aware that they are dependent.
While you should be fully willing to help them with everything, it is also a good idea to give them as much independence as possible. However, it may also mean keeping a close eye on them in any of these independent activities. For instance, Dad likes to take frequent walks around town. At this point in time, his dementia isn’t so bad that he won’t remember his way home and he knows the Pleasant View area around our home pretty well. Plus, for Dad engrained habits don’t rely on memory. For these reasons we are fine with him going on these frequent walks by himself (plus I’m too lazy to go with him all the time). However, we always know what he’s doing and where he is. He also has a cellphone, which helps if he is gone a little too long and we want to make sure he’s okay.
Just honor your parents by letting them make as many of their own decisions as possible for as long as possible. It may get to the point where you will need to manage all of all their personal affairs. As long as they are capable, out of respect you should at least involve them in these things. This goes back to the patience thing, because this will often mean that the process will be a lot slower, more unnecessarily complicated, and that you will be constantly explaining to them what is going on.
This brief list is not mean to be a thorough look at the subject. As mentioned there are many, many, many different situations. In addition, dementia can get really bad. Thankfully, my dad’s isn’t really bad yet, but if or when it does, I need to be committed right now to honoring him no matter what. Be committed to honor your own parent for the rest of yours or their lives. You will need to be proactive about stepping in to take care of them when necessary. They aren’t going to ask you to and they may not want assistance even if they need it. Be willing to help them even without getting any thanks from them for it. You do this and there will be much merrymaking throughout the lands, trees clapping their hands, and mome raths outgribbing.