From Smiling Spouse to CEO

August 3, 2017

You Might Not Like Nantucket If…

August 3, 2017

The Parable of Two Sons

August 3, 2017
mother and son

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.



  1. Ella,
    Amazing…you read my mind! Thank you for expressing feelings and thoughts that I have not dared express. I am finding that each moment is unique and precious no matter where I might set down my belongings.

    1. Princess, I am so sorry to just now respond. I seldom check my spam folder and your message had gone there–the only legitimate message among dozens. Glad my blog helped. I don’t know if you saw that the Baylor Press is publishing my book. I am both honored and excited, as you can imagine. It should be out by fall 18. Hope you’re doing well.

  2. Ella:
    I especially appreciate your comments about dealing with elderly parents. At 66, I still have both of my parents, ages 92 and 94, still living in their own home in Shreveport. I’m still working full time in Dallas, balancing life with adult kids and a 2-year-old granddaughter with an upcoming grandson in two weeks. My parents have refused to move to assisted living, although they badly need it. My mother is my father’s full-time caretaker and it’s wearing her down. They refuse to allow home healthcare in their home. Grrrr! This is me gritting my teeth. I’ve been angry, resentful, frustrated and now sad. I spoke with my brother recently who reminded me that things are only going to get more difficult for them. They are on a waiting list (again, after opting to get off last year!) for a nice assisted living place in Shreveport. But your thoughts brought me some peace, in realizing that I can do only what they allow me to do, and to have patience because their lives have turned upside down. Thank you.

    1. Susan, I’m so glad it helped you. That advice from my pastor was like an audio tape I played every time I felt guilty or torn and I have shared it with so many friends in your situation over the years. I’ve read the stats. A daughter is almost always the primary caregiver, and stress, depression, guilt, etc., etc. are unfortunately the norm.

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