As we conclude our reflections on the joy of parenting our parents, let us consider a few practical suggestions that might become handy as we begin to engage with this in our own lives. As was observed last week, with age comes various medical and social needs which require attention in our parents’ lives.
In some instances, where one’s parents were in formal employment, they might have the social security net of a pension—in some cases that might be adequate for their basic provisions. Sometimes, however, it might be necessary to augment their pension to ensure that our parents don’t wallow in destitution due to neglect (or indifference) on our part.
For those who can, it might be prudent to provide medical insurance cover which can come in handy to cover expenses that usually arise as we seek to provide appropriate care for our aging parents. (Especially for younger people who might have generally energetic parents, it might be wise to include them on your medical scheme early, where possible. It will become useful later down the road).
At another level, it is very important to remember that not all our parents’ needs are financial, medical, or material. The greater need which might be difficult for those of us in the prime of our lives to appreciate is the psycho-social dimension of growing old. Sometimes our parents might have held exciting positions in their career from which they derived considerable personal and social significance. With retirement and the passage of time comes the loss of many social privileges and personal companions: in other words, there is considerable isolation and loneliness which comes at this stage of life.
It is, therefore, important to remember that just being personally available to chat with our parents on a regular basis is one of the most affirming experiences we can offer them. In other words, we must be intentional about giving our time and presence to our parents: it is one simple but sure way to communicate to them how much we value them in our lives. It is equally important to encourage our young children to take time to visit and chat with their grandparents whenever possible; it is an effective way to facilitate intergenerational exchange of ideas.
As we spend time with our parents, we should not be afraid or scared when sometimes the issue of mortality and what to do when that occurs does come up. One is reminded of the biblical story of Jacob who had relocated to Egypt in order to join his son Joseph who had migrated there and was serving in the government of Pharaoh. As time drew near for his death Jacob made his son Joseph promise that upon his demise, he should not be buried in the foreign land, but repatriated back to his home in Hebron (and Joseph honoured that promise).
In other words, it seems quite a legitimate issue of concern for our aging parents to seek our assurance that their values and expectations will be honoured even when they are no longer around. Of course, these are never easy or pleasant conversations, but it is very important to be open to confront these matters with the sensitivity and responsibility which the subject matter demands.
Though not a popular topic (due to our superstitious inclinations) the conversation of mortality should lead naturally to a consideration of wills. A will represents a legal document that allows someone to express their wishes on how their estate (or properties) should be dealt with upon their death. There are some legal formalities which have to be satisfied in order to draw up a valid will.
However, where one has specific wishes on how their affairs should be handled when they are gone, a will is a very useful document to prepare (and we should be able where appropriate to encourage our parents to put in place such a document while they still have the opportunity). In order to avoid creating the impression that we want to benefit ourselves, our role in that process could be limited to ensuring that they get access to the right people to help them draw a valid document.
In my limited experience with wills, one thing I have noted is that being able to identify responsible people who will be able to carry the burden of ensuring that the will is properly and effectively administered is a critical aspect of ensuring that the wishes of the one who made the will in the first place are indeed implemented as outlined in the document. Such conversations are vital to ensuring that even in their latter years, our parents can enjoy peace of mind.