The following article originally ran on LDS Living in 2015.
My father-in-law, Francis Christensen, has suffered from Parkinson’s disease for the past 10 years. As a family, we’ve struggled with the way this disease has changed his life, but following his positive outlook, we’re committed to take advantage of every moment we have and make each day count.
Like a dark cloud hanging over us, many of us feel the impending consequences of aging threatening the way we’ve always interacted with our parents. Here are 10 ways to combat the process of aging by seizing the moment and capturing those priceless memories now.
1. Take Mom or Dad out to eat and ask them questions about their childhood.
Take notes on the stories they share with you. You can compile these into a journal, enter them on your own familysearch.org page, or type them up for a family newsletter.
My husband has taken his dad out to breakfast on a regular basis over the past two years. He enjoys having that one-on-one time to chat, because, though it’s wonderful to enjoy the grandkids, when we get together, sometimes it’s hard to have meaningful conversation above the hubbub. These breakfast chats have enriched their father-son relationship. A family member gave my father-in-law a bag of questions, and each breakfast he and my husband select a few to answer. Often this encourages my father-in-law to share new, unheard stories.
2 Take time to connect.
Make it a practice to call your parents regularly, even if you live close by. Or try sending them a card, dropping off a bouquet of flowers, or leaving a favorite treat.
There are lots of little things you can do to keep connected to your parents that don’t require much time or money. My mom called her mother at 7 in the morning every day on her way to work. My grandma was always up because she had trouble sleeping, and she looked forward to those calls. After she passed away, my mom continued to find herself reaching for the phone in the morning, still grateful for those conversations.
Make these connections a habit by creating a schedule where you call, send a card, or stop by on a certain day of each week.
3. Invite your parents over for dinner.
Better yet, plan with your siblings who live nearby and take turns or bring everyone together for fun family dinners.
Create a schedule with your siblings to check in on Mom and Dad. Consider meeting together with your parents once a month for lunch, a treat, or just a visit, if you live close by.
A family I know checked their father out of the rest home once a week and took him to his favorite restaurant for lunch. They spent time visiting with him and enjoyed being together as a family, reminiscing on many wonderful memories from their childhood. Honoring their father, serving him, and connecting with him made his transition into old age less difficult.
As people age, their health and condition can deteriorate rapidly. Having a practice of communicating and checking in with your parents on a regular basis can help you to note changes as well as prevent some of the deterioration that occurs when the elderly are left in isolation.
4. Participate in family history work.
Learn to index and work together to meet goals. Visit familysearch.org to set up your account. You might even consider visiting your local family history center with your family to learn what you can do to take part in the work. There are so many different opportunities for people of all ages and skill levels, and the work is rewarding.
My mom taught me how to index, and we often discuss how much the world has changed in the last decade. There is such an opportunity now to “turn the hearts of the children to the fathers.” Working together on family history can often spark long-lost memories. Be sure to record these priceless gems and consider other ways you can prime your parents’ memories.
Record family history stories by interviewing relatives, compiling journals, and visiting cemeteries and other significant places for your family. Often, when we visit places from our youth, a flood of memories returns. Take a journey back in time with your parents by returning to their roots or a place that they used to frequent. Bring a notebook and video or voice recorder, and be prepared to learn something new about your parents.
You can also complete family history charts and prepare names for the temple together. Now is the time to fill in the missing gaps in your pedigree chart. Many times one piece of information or one small memory can unlock the door to your genealogical roots. Take advantage of the wealth of knowledge your parents can provide while researching your family history.
5. Take your parents to the temple.
As our parents age, they often have difficulty dressing and changing clothing for the temple. My father-in-law found it was too difficult to attend a session unless he had someone to help him, so my husband attends with his dad and sits next to him to help him in the temple.
Driving also becomes difficult or impossible as parents age. Simply offering a ride to the temple—or other places like the grocery store or a church activity—might be a great blessing to your parents. If your parents can no longer drive, setting up a schedule with siblings or members of your parents’ ward to regularly provide rides can help them retain a sense of normalcy.
6. Invite your parents over for family home evening.
And if they are up to it, assign them a part of the lesson. Ask them to share experiences and insights from their life.
Or, if your parents struggle getting around, why not try taking family home evening to them?
Family home evening is a great way to grow from your parents’ personal faith and testimonies. My in-laws served a mission to Tonga, and afterward, they held a family home evening for all of their children. They shared stories, pictures, and souvenirs from their mission and shared how they had been blessed by their testimony of the gospel.
7. Encourage and help them come to grandchildren’s events, but also make sure children know why their grandparents can’t always come.
My in-laws are incredibly supportive of all their grandchildren and attend several events each month. My husband tries to help his dad with his wheelchair before and after by loading it into the vehicle. Sometimes, however, just Grandma attends an event because of accessibility.
Even when Grandpa can’t come, we make sure our kids understand why he can’t be there and that he loves them and is proud of their accomplishments. It’s important that we talk about Grandpa’s illness with our children and how it affects him. It does make the kids sad, but at the same time, it has helped them become compassionate and gain a broader perspective of the world. Because Grandpa Francis has such a positive attitude, it has created wonderful opportunities for us to talk to our kids about hard things in life, how we can overcome them, how we can help others, and how much Heavenly Father loves each of us.
8. Make general conference a family event.
Attend priesthood session with your father, women’s conference with your mother, or get the whole family together to watch general conference.
My husband looks forward to attending priesthood session with his dad and has always made it top priority. He and his brothers are spiritually fed together with their dad. Afterward, they go out to eat, making the event memorable by reminiscing on decades of attending conference together.
9. Be involved in their lives.
Now is the time to build a strong connection with your parents. Don’t wait until they are sick. Parents and children have so much to offer each other at every stage of life. Stop by just to let them know you’re thinking of them. While you’re there, offer to help with any odd jobs that they need assistance with. Many times it’s the small things that make a big difference—things they maybe haven’t wanted to bother anyone else with.
Many activities that our parents have enjoyed for decades are now difficult because of vision changes, fine motor skill degradation, and impairments to balance. Help your mom or dad finish up some of their projects, pass along a skill, or find items they might want to pass on to children and grandchildren.
You could also volunteer to help your parents with a calling or assignment in church. Give contact info to ward leaders in your parents’ ward so they can reach you if needed. Make leaders aware of needs and limitations concerning your parents and ask for ideas on how you can help.
10. Be patient.
Life will always be busy, but that doesn’t mean you have to race past everyone else in line. It’s difficult to remember, but you need to stop, take a breath, and wait. Walk slower. Think about how you would feel if you were maneuvering a wheelchair through a crowded room of people who could all easily walk wherever they needed to go. Remember your parent might be suffering in ways you cannot see.
The emotional side of disease is often more painful than the physical. A loss of identity, purpose, independence, and even testimony can result from battles with chronic illnesses. While acts of service are needed and appreciated, showing your parents that you are willing to spend time with them can be even more important.
Sit down and look your parents in the eyes. Give them your attention, as well as permission to share their fears of aging with you. Discuss ways that you can be a support to them. A family council is a wonderful tool to bring everyone together to discuss how to meet needs and keep the family connection strong.
Accept your parents’ aging, whether it’s graceful or not. Aging is a part of life that teaches everyone involved about charity, the pure love of Christ. Take a moment to ponder what it is you are supposed to learn from this time and experience with your parents. Capture the memories and implement them in your own life to create an impact that extends through generations.