As I looked around the room of fellow expats at our International fellowship’s women’s retreat this spring, I had a sudden rather shocking realization: I was probably the oldest woman in the room!
This was one of those defining moments.
A “first time this has EVER happened to me” experience. Déjà vu, just like the first time I ordered off the senior menu at Denny’s.
My new normal now includes things like saving money in restaurants and choosing to embrace my gray hair!
When my husband and I moved back overseas after raising our family in America, we soon realized that most “M’s” close to our age were heading back to their passport countries to be closer to their young adult children or to care for aging parents.
Our local friends here ask us why we are not home caring for our elderly parents and our grandchildren? They cannot fathom why we would leave our family. Usually it is the young families who leave their parents and grandparents to head overseas. In our case, we are breaking the norm.
In this culture, the elderly are respected for their wisdom and experience. My gray hair also occasionally gets me a seat on the subway, but not as often as I would like!
My 91-year-old dad is now a widower for the second time and lives in the memory care unit in a beautiful retirement center. I live overseas while my brother lives in another state.
A current, very real struggle for me is the question of how to honor my elderly parent while living overseas.
My dad spent most of his professional career as a surgeon overseas. He made provision for himself many years ago by purchasing long-term care insurance.
He explained to us that he did this so that his children would be free to follow God’s leading in our lives. That was his desire. My brother and I are privileged to have parents who prepared and articulated their wishes so well.
But we still feel the need to show honor to our dad.
How do we do that when we do not reside in the same state or even the same country?
- Frequent communication
My parents and grandparents lived and served cross culturally. Their families saved many letters written faithfully by my grandmother and my own parents to their parents while living overseas. They kept in touch with their family almost on a weekly basis. While letters took 2-4 weeks to arrive in those days, today we have instant face-to-face real-time communication through the wonders of technology.
Air travel is relatively easy. My brother and I have been able to find some great deals on air fares to make it possible for us to visit our father several times a year as we alternate our visits.
- Asking God how to best Honor our parent’s requests
This one is hard. Every circumstance is unique.
Should we honor every request made by our parents? How do we handle criticism from well-meaning friends regarding our decisions?
I am quite conflicted. My heart is torn.
My father is pleased that we are serving in East Asia, the corner of the world where he spent the majority of his adult life.
And yet, there are so many days that I want to be with him to make sure he is thriving. I want to be the one to take him out for walks, to be there on special occasions, to talk with him about the past and to read scripture to him.
These words often comfort my heart: “Jesus said, Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)
We honor our parents through advocating for them when they are no longer able to make their own decisions. My brother handles my dad’s financial affairs. I (as a nurse) handle his medical needs. Through frequent phone calls and emails, we continue to communicate with his caregivers to make sure he receives the best care possible.
Special friends and relatives who visit and check in are truly a gift. I have one friend specializing in elder care who visits my dad and updates us on any needs or concerns. She goes far beyond the small stipend we give her in providing loving care for him. This puts my heart at ease and is one of the greatest gifts of support, enabling my husband and me to remain overseas at this time. My heart is grateful for God’s provision.
Decisions on the best way to honor aging parents are hard and differ from family to family.
James 1:5 reminds us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”
This verse reminds us that God provides wisdom we need when we desire to follow his command of honoring our parents, even while living on the other side of the world.
How do you honor your parents from afar?