Whether it’s with a pet, a friend, or a family member.
If the relationship was wonderful, we feel a great loss. If it was terrible, we’re filled with regret.
There is no way to eliminate this pain … but there are ways to reduce it.
One of those ways is to make sure we’ve done all we can to love and serve others to the best of our ability, which reduces our regrets and leaves us with more positive memories.
This is especially important as we face old age, either our own or our parents’.
The slow decay of physical and mental health, the erosion of self-sufficiency, and the reversal of roles can create some of the most painful experiences of life … but also some of the greatest opportunities to sacrificially love and serve one another.
This dynamic is powerfully illustrated in a tender 2013 movie, Still Mine, which earned seven Canadian Screen Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor (James Cromwell), and Best Actress (GeneviÃ¨ve Bujold).
Based on true events, the film tells the poignant story of Craig Morrison, an 87-year-old farmer in rural Canada, who is struggling to build a better house for his ailing wife, Irene. Although Craig is a skilled carpenter, the local building inspector charges him with dozens of code violations and orders him to stop construction. As Irene’s Alzheimer’s disease worsens and she breaks a hip, Craig defies the order and races to finish the house. Summoned to court and facing jail, he takes a valiant stand for the sake of his beloved wife.
One of the subplots in the story is the tension between Craig and their two children who are trying desperately to help their fiercely independent parents. Although the children make numerous offers to assist their father finish the home, he persists in going it alone, saying, “Age is just an abstraction, not a straightjacket.”
Here is a trailer for the movie that captures many of these dynamics (if a video screen does not appear below, click here ).
Corlette and I were deeply moved by this story, realizing that it might be a preview of some of the challenges we may face some day. We decided it would be wise to discuss these issues with our children before a crisis hits, so last Saturday we sat down as a family to watch the movie together.
Afterwards we talked about how the Morrison family dealt with their challenges.
We all admired Craig’s devotion to Irene, as well as their children’s desire to care for their parents. But we also identified things that each member of the family did that made the situation more difficult for others.
We then applied these insights to our own family. Each of us shared how we would prefer to walk through these kinds of challenges someday, both how we hope to behave and how we hope we would be treated. We then made a number of commitments to one another on how we can prepare for these kinds of challenges, and what we will do if they actually arise.
I encourage you to do the same.
This a conversation that most people put off until it’s too late. And once physical or mental health declines, or people are financially backed into a corner, it gets progressively harder to face these issues with true unity and peace. I’ve mediated many of these family disputes, and they are some of the most painful I’ve ever seen. All too often they end in broken relationships, lonely endings, and years of regret.
So gather your adult family members this fall and watch this movie together. (Warning: it contains some profanity and a scene where this 87-year-old couple briefly rekindles some of their romantic passion.) After watching the movie, these are some questions you could discuss:
- What did you admire most about each of the key characters in the movie, and what actions do you hope you would imitate in a similar situation?
- How did the movie portray some of the consequences of man’s fall into sin?
- What were some of the emotions, desires, and habits each character struggled with? How well did they handle them? How did their actions impact other family members?
- What could each of the characters have done differently that might have made life easier for other family members (see Phil. 2:1-5). More specifically, how could they have applied the GPS, READ, and SERVE principles  of relational wisdom?
- How would a clear understanding of the gospel have provided comfort and guidance throughout this ordeal?
- How would you like to see our family handle a situation like this if necessary? What could we do in the days ahead that would make it easier to face these kinds of challenges down the road (see, e.g., The Two Treasures ).
- What character qualities should each of us ask God to help us change so we are better able to love and serve one another when faced with a crisis like this?
- If mom or dad’s health began to decline, where would be the best place for them to live? (When this happened to Corlette’s parents, and also to her aunt and uncle, they willingly left the towns where they’d lived all their lives and moved to Billings to make it easier for Corlette and me to care for them … which was a great joy for us.)
- What financial and legal arrangements should we be making today to prevent unnecessary confusion and stress at a later date? (e.g., wills, trusts, retirement plans; Corlette and I have recently begun “cross-training” on all household activities so that each of us is able to manage life on our own if necessary).
- What kind of family legacy do we want to pass on to our children and grandchildren when we leave this world? (see Your Legacy )
Our family agreed that we needed to have an ongoing conversation about these things, so we committed ourselves to being candid about our concerns and open to different ideas. We also purchased a DVD of this movie  so we could watch it every couple of years and be reminded of our commitments.
Most importantly, we resolved to making God’s Word our compass for this journey, especially passages like Philippians 2:3-4:
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus ….”
May God give us (and you) grace to live out these principles every day of our lives.
– Ken Sande
PS – If you do not have the kind of relationship with your parents or children that would allow you to have this kind of conversation today, then I invite you to take advantage of our online training  to develop the relational skills that might open the door for such dialogue.
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© 2014 Ken Sande
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