I’m walking in a new role lately of daughter and parent to my father as he ages, and the stakes are high as I realize my children are watching this process.

Not every parent/child relationship is easy. Clearly that is an understatement, as I ponder the different relationships I have with my children. These relationships, however, matter, and we must pursue them and allow ourselves to be formed through them.

For me, this is especially important because I will be walking in my father’s shoes one day and will need my children to care for me with tenderness, charity and compassion. But just as parenting young children requires humility and patience, these virtues become refined as we lead our parents to heaven.

My father and I live in separate states. I have eight children whose needs keep me close, so I cannot get home often. I am grateful for the care my younger sister gives, who also lives out of state, navigating the finances and medical aspects of my father’s life. God has equipped each of us with the gifts necessary to care and minister to those around us, including our children and parents. Those roles switch as we age, but we must always be using our gifts toward this good.

This means going over my father’s schedule with him every day, sometimes multiple times. We put Grandpa on FaceTime so he can hear the ins and outs of our family life. We have groceries delivered when he forgets to go to the store. We listen to music together. We encourage him to step outside his apartment and make new friends. It won’t be long before he needs more help than just us. I want to preserve our time together.

For many months, I have been feeling the nudge to pray with my father, and I pushed that to the side because my prayer life is where I find peace and fill up my spiritual and physical well for the day. Recently, however, as I sat in my den wrapped in a blanket, sipping tea, I felt the nudge to pray the rosary with my father, so I sent him a text to set a time. He immediately FaceTimed me. It was early in the morning. Clearly my day was going to begin with this offering.

My dad is getting older. There are moments where I feel more the parent and he the child. It is a challenging place. As I helped Dad through the rosary, teaching him the order of the mysteries, the call and response method of praying together, I had to take a couple of deep breaths. I begged Jesus for patience because I felt mine slipping. Why is it easier to teach our children than our parents?

Bead by bead, I told the stories to my dad, answering questions, refocusing his attention on the prayer. My son Joseph took a decade as I ran to get kids out of bed. “My turn, Grandpa,” I heard him say. “Now your turn.” Such ease, such patience. It was good.

As I jumped back in, I encouraged my dad to go to daily Mass. I told him that there he would also find people with whom he could pray the rosary, perhaps even grab a bite to eat after Mass. Full disclosure, I did tell him the ladies who pray the rosary are always so pretty and kind and might make a mean lasagna. I’m pretty sure he’ll be front row tomorrow.

A little deception, but such truth: The ladies are beautiful, and I’m sure they love to cook. He is lonely. There is comfort in praying in community, and I know they will love him as I do.

Pope Francis, in one of his general audiences in St. Peter’s Square, remarked, “If we don’t treat the elderly well, when the time comes, we won’t be treated well, either.”

While we are not called for that reason, there is a recognition that, as parents of our own children, how we model caregiving matters. This not only models how we hope to be cared for, but, more important, it also teaches the recognition that every person, no matter his or her age, has value and dignity. I want to model that to my children.

We have a neighbor who just turned 99 years old. Her wit and smile never cease to amaze me. Yesterday, when my daughter and I were visiting her, we were discussing travel. She said she had always wanted to visit Italy. I asked her if it was the history there she most longed to see. She said, “Oh heavens, if I wanted to see history, I’d just look in the mirror!”

I chuckled but later, when pondering, gathered grace from that moment. I am often asking the Lord, “How can I help my father? How can I be more patient? How can I love him better?” As our dear neighbor pointed out, she is a living history book and loves to share her stories. Stories are a great way to bond.

My dad and I created a new story when we prayed the rosary together. My children were part of that. Perhaps by putting the value back into our elders’ stories, they can feel necessary again.

Pope St. John Paul II is often quoted sharing how necessary children are. So, too, are the elderly. They are a necessary part of our society. They carry our memories. Caring for them preserves their dignity, forms us to a better version of ourselves and models a circle of familial love that, we hope, our children will carry on through the generations.

This post first appeared in the Catholic Times.

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