Between Elderly Parent and Child

A Jewish Mother’s Day Reflection

May 10, 2013

“With age comes wisdom, and length of days brings understanding.” - Job 12:12

“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be.” - Robert Browning 

The Jewish tradition stresses that becoming old is a blessing. Judaism believes that growing old should not be a burden. Our elderly should be revered. The distinguished English poet and playwright Robert Browning reaffirms the mandate of the Book of Job. Browning knew that old age can mean “successful aging,” in modern terms. You can enjoy your later years. You can exceed your hopes and expectations as you grow old. Respect your parents and help them grow old with dignity.

A key to good aging is a good support system. If you are that support person for your mom, dad or grandparents, how can you make this new relationship work? Caregiving is challenging, so it is perfectly appropriate to be on circuit overload when caregiving for those who cared for you. What does that mean to you as you begin this caregiving journey? How can you reduce the stress and make the experience of caregiving a positive one for both you and your parent?

Respect the process: This process ofsupporting your aging parent is a slow one. You, your family, and your parent are navigating in uncharted territory. Neither you nor parents foresaw this. Allow for and expect surprises. But the adage “time heals,”is so true.

Even if your relationship with your parent has become strained and fractured, now is the time to rebuild. There are countless examples of children and parents waiting until mom or dad are critically ill to reconcile. You and your parents can have so many meaningful years starting now.

Take care of yourself. It’s so easy to surrender to the care of your aging parent and devote more of your own life than you should. But you serve neither yourself nor them if you fail to take walks, to stretch out, to eat right, and to make sure you spend quality time away from them. It is critical that you take time to recharge yourself. There will always be a conflict between taking care of yourself and kibud av v’em, the Biblical injunction to care and respect your mother and father.

A close family member of Dean Huberman, Mary, is a model of resilience.* Mary maintained a full-time job requiring many hours out of the home while her husband, Richard, suffered a series of prolonged debilitating illnesses. “I recall seeing Mary at family occasions having flown across the country with Richard, who could not get around on his own, and was in a wheelchair,” said Dean Huberman. “Despite these major caretaking obligations and her job, Mary went to the gym regularly and tried to stay on herWeightWatchersregimen. Richard passed away not long ago. Mary still has her demanding full-time job and still goes to the gym and stays on Weight Watchers. She was already on a regimen that sustained her through her loss.”

Mary this week wrote Dean Huberman,” Taking care of Richard was a true mitzvah, difficult yes, but it taught me the true meaning of love and commitment.”

Allow the resignation, but remember you are not alone. Accept the changes in your mom or dad, which may include serious physical and psychological deterioration. Accept the changesin yourself and increased levels ofstress and anxiety as a caregiver. With the changes come grief at the loss of the vibrant adults they once were and who they are now. The roles have reversed the moment your parent has become dependent on you. Know that“the generational shift” has occurred. New rules apply for them and for you.You need to recognize you are not alone in this undertaking. See, for example, these helpful websites for coping strategies.

  • Family Caregiver Alliance: Guidance on hiring support, how to meet with your parent, taking care of yourself as the caregiver, developing an inventory of documents, and determining housing arrangements for your parent.
  • National Alliance for Caregiving: A comprehensive compendium of links and resources.
  • Next Step in Care: Provides easy-to-use guides to help family caregivers and health care providers work closely together to plan and implementsafe and smooth transitionsfor chronically or seriously ill patients.

Talk to a friend or a professional. Develop a personal support system. It is wise to develop several sources of support during this time. These support people may be experts and professionalssuch asrabbis,social workers or other helping professionals. They may be friends or family. During this time the input and love of a friend or family is invaluable to you. The goal of a support system is to support you as you meet the challenges of caregiving.

Role modeling is so vital. The example you set and the tone you convey to your parents is intrinsically important. How you conduct yourself now will set the tone and standard for your relationship with YOUR own children as you grow older and more dependent on them. This generational effect is known in Hebrew as “m’dor l’dor.”

Remember you are not an island unto yourself. Others care about you and want to help. Accept their help. A supportive rabbi can be especially helpful. And the warmth of community activities can give you the strength to persevere.

The time spent in this challenging work is the highest expression of the 5th of the 10 commandments -“Honor thy Father and Mother.” Happy Mother’s Day. We wish you strength.

* We have changed the names of the Dean’s family members in this story, to protect their privacy.