Once there were two elderly, affluent widows whose oldest sons served as executors of their fathers’ wills and as trustees responsible for managing their mothers’ finances. Each son was the mature, responsible, oldest child in his family. Both women lived for decades after their husbands’ deaths.
One widow complained, “I can’t buy a new outfit without asking my son’s permission.” The other widow happily traveled the world, enjoying her carefree lifestyle…until one day her son said, “Mother, there is no more money.”
The first widow lived to the end of her days well cared for, in the finest senior living facilities available in her community. The second widow struggled to remain in her home alone, unable to afford even a parttime caregiver after her health failed and she was no longer mobile.
Who, then, was the better son?
I am reminded of my conversation with my pastor in 1981, after my dad died too young of multiple myeloma and my mother had Parkinson’s disease. I was the responsible child, and my children were 14 and 11. I asked, “What is my responsibility to my mother?” I have never forgotten his wise reply.
Ella, you can’t make your mother happy. What would make her happy would be to have her health back and for your dad to be alive and well. You can’t give her that. Elderly parents are somewhat like children. What they want and what they need are often two different things. You are responsible to see that her needs are met. But your first responsibility is to your husband and then to your children. That is biblical.
Sometime after Lev died, as the children and I tried to figure out how to relate to one another in our new roles, I realized to my shock that my pastor’s advice now applies to my children and me. They are not responsible for my happiness; and if I depend on them for my happiness, everyone is going to be stressed and unhappy. Regrettably, there is often a disconnect between what my head knows and my heart feels.
And while I have focused on the need to be an encourager, to be positive and optimistic, to speak the truth in love as I have applied the Apostle Paul’s words to the Philippians to myself and other widows, I realize that Paul also warned the Philippians to beware.
Who was the better son?
Did either of them caution their mothers? Did they speak the truth about finances in a gentle, loving way? In my role, do I have the grace to allow my children to speak the truth in love to me, to balance encouragement with reality, to be optimistic without being dishonest?
This week is the last week in my rented summer home on Nantucket, the last week of Porchtime at the Parsonage, weekly conversations with other women on how to reclaim joy after loss. We reached Philippians 4 Tuesday afternoon—the great climatic conclusion on our journey from discouragement to joy. It was a celebration of thanksgiving. We wanted to stand and sing the Hallelujah Chorus.
Yet part of me is sad. Part of me doesn’t want to say goodbye. Part of me doesn’t want to go home to the real world filled with stress and pressure and too much to do and too little time to do it all. I have planned my last 12 days on the island carefully. What do I want to do, see, taste one more time? What is still on my bucket list to be checked off? When I thought, this is my last trip to Sconset, my last day outside of town, I followed through with the reminder that God willing, I will return next summer and a thank you, God moment that I have had the great privilege of finding this place that brings me such peace and joy.