After writing two long letters to my dad about what happened during that last year of his life, I started thinking that my questions and words were not adequate. Maybe I am approaching it from the wrong direction. I know that I made mistakes of judgment when it came to the caregiver. But I started wondering how much did I love my parents and how would I know.
The fourth commandment tells us that we must “honor our parents”. What does that mean?
Here is what the Catechism says:
- 1) The duties of children – the divine fatherhood is the source of the human fatherhood; this is the foundation of the honor due to parents.
- 2) Respect for parents derives from gratitude toward those who, by the gift of life, their love and their work, have brought their children into the world, and enabled them to grow in stature, wisdom and grace.
- 3) The fourth commandment reminds children of their responsibilities toward their parents. As much as they can, they must give them material and moral support in old age and in times of illness, loneliness or distress.
So in what way did I fulfill what the Catechism says? I respected them. I tried to help them. Even before they became ill, I often took mom out each week while dad was still working. I spent time with them, inviting them to dinner or going to their home for dinner, hosting an anniversary party for them after 40 years of marriage. I called them frequently to find out how they were doing. Perhaps I could have visited with them more often.
Before they moved to San Angelo, I paid for the installation of a new floor in their kitchen area, as I knew that dad could not do the work. I had an alarm installed in their home to protect them and me when they were away.
After they moved I visited them every few months to help – cleaning the freezer, doing yard work, cooking their favorite foods and just spending time with them. When dad became ill and needed surgery, I returned to Austin to take care of mom, taking her to and from the hospital, caring for her needs as she was already suffering from dementia. Once dad became ill, I visited every month to help Christine take care of them. I shopped for things that were needed, cooked food for them, cleaned when I could, put wallpaper in their bathrooms to “pretty up” their home, I took dad and then mom to the doctor’s appointments, purchased medication when it was needed. I did yard work, first watering and fertilizing the rose bushes in the front and then replacing them when the bushes died.
But there are times when i think that I approached their problems too “rationally” without much emotion. Is that wrong? Does that show that I didn’t love them? I don’t know the answer to that. In some ways I was too practical – realizing that they were ill and would die soon (that could have been years though I don’t know what I thought).
I remember when I decided that I would help them in any way that I could. I was returning from San Angelo after my first visit and had recognized that they needed help. I thought that it was a choice I could make. I could choose to visit often, so that I could help. Then and there I decided that is what I would do. But was it love or duty? In some ways I think a lot of it was duty. So where was the love? Could it be that in choosing to do what was my duty, that I was choosing love as well?
And now, now that they are both gone, what are my feelings? I am saddened at the way dad died and at the way mom spent her last years without him. I miss them. I miss calling to see how they were doing. I miss telling mom and dad what is happening to me – accomplishments, times with Larry and Erin. I miss visiting them for holidays. The holidays don’t seem special any more, although I try to make them special for Larry and Erin.
I spent a lot of time writing about how Jeannie and Jill interfered with mom and dad’s care. But what about me? Am I failing to see myself in what I complained about them? To assume that I was so good – well, that just isn’t true. Or that I was so caring – I think Jeannie was more emotionally involved with our parents that I was. Was it because she still needed them for emotional support? It is as though I moved on with my life, and mom and dad were only involved around the edges. Did I even see them as real persons with needs like mine, with desires like mine? I wish I knew the answers to all these questions.