The concept of honoring your father and mother is presented in the Old Testament and affirmed in the New Testament. As children we’re taught this means obeying mom and dad and being respectful of them. Clean your room, don’t talk back, do whatever they tell you to do. The focus of most teaching always seems to stop at young children. It’s as though when you turn 18 you’re no longer responsible to “honor” them. Does that requirement really end? Most people would never say it does, but there is definitely a change. What does honoring your father and mother look like when you’re at mid-life and they’re near the end?
I’m in Florida with my parents right now. My mom has been disabled for 3 years because of a pain disorder and severe depression. My father had surgery to remove a tumor from his pancreas 2 years ago. The cancer has returned and last week the doctors gave him 6 months to live. My whole family lives in Chicagoland so my parents have no support system here in Tampa. It’s just the two of them. In my mind, moving back near family for this next (and last) phase of life is a no-brainer. But I’m getting some push back.
They’d love to wait until February or March to move back home. They understand that by that time dad may be too sick to travel, but they really like their house in Florida. The weather in December sure is better in Tampa than Chicago. While it seems they should move back to Illinois ASAP they are non-committal about moving at all, much less doing it quickly. Why?
It took a while for me to realize what’s really going on. For 20 years they dreamed of retiring in Florida. They were going to enjoy many years of sunshine and a slow pace. The beach would be their friend and my dad would be able to grow avocado trees in the yard. Then, just a couple of years into this story, everything changed. They understand the logic of being closer to family during this season of life, but to leave means the end of so much. As soon as the moving truck pulls away from the Florida home it will signal the end of what was supposed to be. More than that, it means this foggy nightmare of cancer is real. Dad is going to die. An earthly marriage is about to end and so will loving relationships with children and grandchildren.
So, how do I “honor” them during this process? Certainly not rushing their decision would be one way. I don’t want to pressure them. But what if they decide they don’t want to move back near family at all? What if this is their new home and regardless of poor health they are staying? I’ll confess there’s some selfishness on my part because I don’t want this to be the last time I see my dad. I’d like to see him a lot in the last months of his life and that’s only possible in Illinois. And I want to make sure he is well taken care of. I can’t do that from 1,000 miles away. But, again, what if they become insistent about staying?
How do you honor your parents when you know what’s best for them, but they don’t want it? When emotion gets in the way of clear thinking? When fear becomes almost paralyzing?
I can’t force them to move back near family sooner rather than later (or never). In the end it’s their choice. And maybe that’s the answer to the big question. Instead of being children who make decisions for our parents and force them to comply or manipulate them into doing what we want, perhaps we should reexamine what “best” really means. Sure, they can get better care in Illinois, but if their hearts, minds, and souls tell them they’d be better all the way down here then maybe we should focus on making that as comfortable as possible. And certainly we should put our selfishness aside as completely as we can. Just because we children see one option as obviously best doesn’t mean they do and doesn’t actually mean it is best.
This post won’t end with a definitive answer and that’s tough for me. I usually see things black and white, but these are the gray areas of life. I’ll pray for wisdom concerning how to best “honor” them both. God’s pretty good at responding to prayers for guidance.