Our Father is the One who authors the beginning and end of life as we know it. We don’t know when He will call us Home, but Scripture advises us that each of us has an appointment, after which we will stand before God on the other side of eternity. As our aging parents progress toward that day, we may not even realize or pay attention to the brevity of life.However, we must realize and remember that we need to prepare gracefully, considering that in all King Solomon described in his soliloquy, “To everything, there is a time…” Yet, in between the time when our lives begin and the God-appointed time to die, we must regard our days as precious gifts to present back to the Giver as we steward them well.
Part of living wisely within the space between our arrival and departure embraces the spiritual and practical. While we look toward eternity, we also do well to plan, knowing that life on earth will eventually conclude. While advance arrangements can address some of the known late-life matters, we will still grieve.
That is a natural part of both life and death. We must be honest with ourselves, realizing that with all of our planning we will not be fully prepared for all the ways that loss impacts when death actually occurs.
While these changes appear differently for every human and family group, we can identify with some commonalities. Time and circumstance happen to us all, regardless of choice or connection. At the conclusion of life, we will leave this earth, though our journeys along the route to transition will differ. Some live long, while others have an abbreviated life. Some experience few, if any health concerns, while others counter brief or protracted illnesses before transitioning.
Whatever the circumstances, Scripture admonishes us to number our days, considering their impermanence. Like vapor, they present and then fade. Consequently, we learn to embrace wisdom in savoring all God has given, including the time He’s lavished.
End-of-Life Preparation Advice for Aging Parents
While it may seem surreal, the inevitable happens as we live it, often without knowing what will occur from one moment to the next. How do we prepare for that, especially with aging parents? As with many things, and perhaps with all circumstances, we can begin by seeking God’s guidance and wisdom with each decision to be made.
When we ask, it is guaranteed that He will answer and offer, without punishment or restriction. He alone numbers the hairs on our heads. It is His breath that flows in and through us, making us the living souls that we are. In that respect, it is critically important for us to seek His wisdom as we navigate unfamiliar territory with aging parents.
The key to those conversations is communication with our aging parents and with our siblings if they are available and willing. Everyone may have a variety of perspectives and different values when it comes to health, legal, and financial matters that impact the family. In many cases, it seems easier to avoid such discussions, because emotions run deeply.
We don’t often like to face the fragility of our own lives and our mortality. We can take comfort from the Scriptures that remind us that while our parents may be present with the Lord, other members of the family will still be on earth. We’ve got to navigate the tough conversations before we are required to have them.
Communication is a proactive measure that does not buy us time but offers us the consideration of investing in our present relationships, not only with our aging parents but also with our siblings and others who have a stake in the family’s legacy.
Yet, when we postpone sharing and engaging in thoughtful and meaningful dialogue with aging parents, we are often catapulted into situations where choices have to be made, often with no time to offer thorough consideration for all of the nuanced perspectives. In such circumstances, someone will likely have a difference of opinion; and in the cases where family dynamics are already tenuous, it could threaten the family’s ability to recover well.
Investing in quality time to research, communicate, and consider options for serving our parents well allows us to become accustomed to the idea that they will not be with us forever. It also enables us to offer our insights and perspectives to the conversation, while also gathering input from our siblings and extended family members.
Difficult experiences allow for us to learn from one another and grow together, as we anchor our decisions in prioritizing what is best for our aging parents as opposed to what serves our own interests and agenda.
Counseling for Death and Dying
However, it takes more than time and circumstance to arrive there. It may also require that we seek intentional support from a counseling professional. Sometimes, when difficult feelings come to the surface in such encounters, they indicate unresolved matters from the family’s past.
Relationship dynamics don’t change on their own, but families can utilize their circumstances to make a deliberate shift. Often death will reveal those dynamics. But when death occurs, there is more to unravel as grief and loss can often cloud our judgment and further complicate matters. Hence, it may be helpful to proactively seek to resolve some of the known issues beforehand.
Counselors are familiar and experienced with all sorts of family situations. At this time, it may be expedient for all to participate at a time when hearts may be more tender than in previous seasons. In order to navigate this well, it is essential to embrace the following:
Be sensitive and kind. Prioritize treating your family members as you would want to be treated
Be respectful. Everyone will not share your ideas or perspectives, but allow yourself to learn from one another, even at this stage in your family’s life cycle.
Be honest. Where there are matters that render you feeling perplexed, hurt, angry, or numb, you must allow yourself to connect with these.
We need to be realistic, understanding that emotions may likely escalate, especially around sensitive topics. However, God has gifted us with emotions, which serve as indicators that we have deeper issues to acknowledge and address.
They nuance and highlight our human experience with intensity and vibrancy, but they are fickle guides, subject to whim and circumstance. Thus, we require the anchor of God’s Holy Spirit and His affirming word to balance us, employing emotions to add dimension to our lives and communication of our hearts, yet relying on Him to navigate our course.
While the Holy Spirit is the ultimate Guide in searching, exploring, and navigating the course of our lives, He has furnished us with resources that support that experience. Counseling, whether individually or with family, can be a key ingredient in helping to walk through what Scripture calls the “valley of the shadow of death.”
Whether the transition for your aging parents may be far off or rather imminent, you can draw on the comfort of the Holy Spirit and the compassion of a trained and empathetic counselor to experience God’s comfort as you walk through this valley.
To some degree, we can offset the consequences of our avoidance. We can communicate, consider, and obtain counsel in order to confront what is inevitable in our lives. We can approach this experience of life and death, eliminating the potential for remorse by praying and planning.
We can invest in our family’s health and legacy by affording time and resources to make arrangements based on our loved one’s wishes while our parents are still present with us. When we honor one another in life by preparing final details, we free ourselves and our loved ones to take care of the most essential business, which is to love and serve each other well, making full, wise, and joyful use of the times and seasons gifted.
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