In early April 1996, occasioned by my mother’s declining health and her most recent fall, resulting in a broken hip, she and Pop decided the time had arrived for them to move from the only house they ever had owned into an assisted living facility not far from that cherished place in Meridian, Miss. My brother, his wife, Rita, Janice and I agreed that such a move would be the best for our folks, especially since we — their adult children and spouses — lived hundreds of miles away from them and were raising young adult sons of our own, in Birmingham and Houston.
Through a series of fortuitously timed events, many of which could not be explained by normal human logic, a place for them, with suitable provisions, was found at the United Methodist Church-affiliated Aldersgate Retirement Community in North Meridian. Within a matter of weeks, my parents left their beautiful home, drove themselves over the rolling hills north of the city, and moved into the not-luxurious, but beautifully adequate and well-maintained facilities offered there. We were grateful that, as a result, they received a safe, secure, well-kept room and bath, three healthy meals a day, available professional health services to assist with their medical needs, and lots of conversation with their peers, many of whom they had known for much of their adult lives.
Pop and all of us were less than thrilled over this transition, but we all agreed it was time. I remember talking with Pop about everything that would be available to him in their new living arrangement. Pop never had the chance to go to college but had generously provided that opportunity for me and my brother years before. I jokingly told him that their new “digs” would be somewhat like my old college dormitory and meal plan, but with a better roommate, much nicer furniture and a private bath.
We both laughed briefly about that. But this significant transition was no laughing matter. Whereas my move into the dorm, years earlier, had signaled a vast widening of options, Mother and Pop’s arrival at Aldersgate sent an all-too-clear signal of diminishing prospects.
“Mother and Pop’s arrival at Aldersgate sent an all-too-clear signal of diminishing prospects.”
In his profound wisdom and indefatigable compassion, knowing that Mother recently had been diagnosed as qualified for hospice care by her doctors and, as always, wanting to be prepared, Pop laid out on their bed in the master bedroom the clothes (including the lingerie) Mother had chosen for her burial. He arranged to keep the electricity and other utilities running and made a promise to himself to return to the house often to check on things. Indeed, in the months that followed, leading to Mother’s death, Pop was still driving his truck and he returned to that house on several occasions. Oh, I wish we had talked about what that must have felt like.
On one of those trips, he realized that the morning sun coming into their bedroom windows was likely to fade that beautiful wine-colored dress which he had given Mother one Christmas and she had selected for her burial attire. So, he found an old raincoat and carefully placed it over the dress, where we found it when she died.
When Jerry and Rita and Janice and I drove back home to assist our folks with the move-in to their new dwellings, we had put together a covenant with them which we signed, printed and framed. We presented that framed document to them, and they immediately hung it on the wall of their bedroom. We always have been glad we formalized this in this way.
Through the years, some have asked for copies of this document and I have provided it. Below, you will find the language. Read it and receive along with it my strongest recommendation that you and yours consider doing something similar when that time comes for you.
- We love you both, very much.
- We know that you love us, equally and individually.
- We cherish the care that you provided for us as children.
- We recognize that your lives and ours are changing.
- We want no change to diminish the love we share.
- We want to be helpful to you, as you grow older.
- We want to add to the stability and quality of your lives.
- We view helping you as both our duty and our privilege.
- We are willing to sacrifice for you, even as you have for us.
- We know that the future holds new challenges for each of us.
- To respect you, always, and never to take advantage of you.
- To remember that you have both rights and responsibilities.
- To give your welfare the highest priority.
- To be honest with you and never to “talk down” to you.
- To listen carefully to your concerns.
- To communicate clearly our best judgments.
- To love you enough to disagree with you, if necessary.
- To disagree with you in as agreeable a fashion as we can.
- To take responsibility, when necessary.
- To stand with you, whatever happens.
Bob Newell has served as a university professor and administrator, a local church pastor and a cross-cultural missionary. He and his wife, Janice, now live in Georgetown, Texas, and he serves churches as transition coach and intentional interim pastor. They were the founders and remain advocates of PORTA, the Albania House in Athens, Greece.