Sunday, January 27, 2019

The fifth commandment, as times goes by

There is a story I remember reading in my youth, apparently originally compiled by the Grimm Brothers, about giving a half blanket to an aging grandparent and keeping the other half for the parent when he becomes old and useless. ( The morale of the story is that the grandson will treat his parents just like his father treated his father, i.e., by sending him away when he becomes old and useless.

Times have changed but human nature has not. We learn human relations, especially patterns of family interaction, from example, not words.  We do as we see, not as we are told. As my parents are now in their 90’s, I observe with amusement as I am doing as my parents do.

My paternal grandmother lived a long and not so happy life as did her many brothers and sisters, almost all reaching the age of 90+. She suffered from several serious diseases and psychologically found it difficult to deal the change in values in the 1960’s. In simple terms, she was a good, honest woman who could be difficult to deal with. My parents called her and her sister, who lived with her, at least once a day, drove them to and fro all holiday occasions, a 45-minute drive each way, and accompanied them through medical tribulations. While as a kid I “sort of” understood how much patience and energy this requires, I now realize that is was labor of love and duty.  Not only that, they never complained about this duty, accepting it as a part of life.

My maternal grandmother had even a harder life and was even more unhappy.  She was, well, Polish.  For those unlucky enough not to experience a Polish compliment, here is an example: You look good today, much better than yesterday. She used to call my mother every day at 8:00 and report all the disasters of the morning to my mother, which earned her the epithet bonnes nouvelles, good news in French. Needless to say, I could immediately identify a conversation with her by my mother lighting a cigarette.  Still, my parents did the same for her as they did for my other grandmother.  My step grandfather, a man whose major positive attribute is that he adored my grandmother, also lived to his 90’s. My mother and aunt made sure that he was well taken care of and visited him regularly.

Now, I live in Israel while my parents live in LA. Every night, we speak around 20 minutes on the phone. I fly to Los Angeles, a hellishly long flight, twice a year and have done so for over 28 years. In a modern twist, I now order items online for them. Fortunately, they have not had too many hospital visits, all things considered, although my father has had his scary moments. My brother has been there for those times.  My mother still drives and handles the frequent doctor visits. On the whole, my parents have required much more emotional than physical support.

This post is neither to complain nor to praise myself but to try to understand my willing choice to invest precious resources, i.e., time and money, on my parents.  That the fifth commandment exists does not obligate anybody, even the religious. Our decision to respect our parents, even when they could be viewed as a burden, is significantly based on example. Maybe, as the story suggests, we should honor our parents to make sure that our children honor us. I see the dutiful behavior of my daughter, now 21 years old, towards her grandparents and parents, with all of whom she has serious issues, and see that she is observing that commandment: Respect your father and mother. It could be said that investing in our parents is long term savings account, with very high interest, whose fruits we only see as time goes by.

My paternal grandmother and her sister
My maternal grandparents

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