I've fallen and I can't get up, the 4th commandment
That famous catchphrase from 80s is one most of us are familiar with, even finding it in memes and online jokes. And it was one I remember hearing on TV commercials while growing up, but it truly struck home when recently one night I was startled awake from my sleep by my mother calling out, “Stephen, my legs gave out and I can’t get up. Help.”
A few years ago, I decided to give up my place and move back in with my mom; she was living alone (my brother and niece had moved away a few years prior) and she was finding it increasingly difficult to live by herself, both financially and emotionally. She was still very active and strong at that time, but this past year has seen her physical strength shockingly diminish over a relatively short period of time. She went from still working at 76 (part-time) to starting to have to use a cane to help her balance by mid-summer, to now using a walker continually just to get around. She even needs help going up and down stairs; all this dramatic change in less than 10 months time. And her greatest frustration is not knowing why this is happening to her.
The 4th Commandment states: “Honour your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
— Deuteronomy 5:16 –
This is something that has become of a much greater reality to me over this past year with what it means to love and honour my parents, especially my mom in particular. For those of us who are parents, we understand the sacrifices we must make for our children: our time, attention, love, finances, heartache and so on. But it really did not become clear to me until this past year just how much the tables would turn, of how much I would have to sacrifice to help my mom as she struggles with her failing strength and the unknowns as to why it is happening.
The pain I see her in, the heartache, the anxiety and the struggle with depression, when she says, “you should trade me in,” or “maybe I should just go live in a nursing home,” or when she will say, “I’m so useless.” Each time it tears my heart a little, but I keep giving to her, trying to lift her up and help, to make each day a bit easier for her. I do not want her to feel abandoned or a burden; she is not that to me, even when I must sacrifice each day of my self for her. She’s worth it and so much more.
So, to me the 4th Commandment has taken on even deeper meaning this past year. Yes, it would be easier just ‘put her in a home’, to pass on the responsibility I have towards her, but I have come to realize that this is my cross that I am willingly accept out of love for her, just as Jesus bore his cross out of love for me.
Recently, Father Mike Schmitz did a video on “How to Love your Difficult Parents”. This was poignant for me considering some of what I’ve journeyed with recently, especially with his final reflections on dealing with an aging parent:
I pray that this helps you too on your own journey with aging parents.
Stephen M. Cross