Over the years, Iíve spent time visiting parishioners in care facilities.
Years ago, my mother was in such a place. One day I was told by my older sister that Mom wasnít doing so well. So, I boarded a plane from Texas to return home.
Mom had been diagnosed with dementia. She could still recognize my sisters (who lived in the same town) but not me. Mom thought I was ďChuck,Ē a cousin of mine who had died many years ago. He was tall like me, so I understood the rationale.
Iíve been with hundreds of people like this over the years, but it is different when it is family. It was emotionally difficult for me.
I returned to Texas. Mom died a week later. Once again, I got on a plane and headed back. This time was for Momís funeral.
The experience gave me greater understanding as to why some may find it difficult to visit their elderly parents in such a place.
At the same time, I can imagine people feeling guilty if they feel that they can no longer manage it.
Recently, I talked to someone about this very topic. Her elderly mother is on the west side of the mountains and is ďslipping away.Ē She is a shell of her former self, and no longer able to recognize her own daughter. It is painful for the daughter to make a visit. (I do recognize that some folks can handle this situation better than others).
This person has been struggling over what to do. I think her eventual solution needs to be shared. She decided to no longer make that long drive to see her mother.
Instead, she has been visiting other people she knows who are up in years. They are not blood relatives. She does so in honor of her mother. Doing so has relieved her guilt about no longer being able to emotionally handle visits to her mother.
This is something I wanted to pass on to you, in case you ever encounter this in your life and need to relieve a guilty conscience. It may serve as a partial or full substitute for those difficult visits. You can even accomplish this after your loved one has passed. It is never too late. This solution isnít one-size-fits-all, but provides another option to consider.
Walter is pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church and has served as parish pastor for more than 25 years.