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Honor is a Verb Tags: Families Caregiving Moving Housing Support

Honor (def). to hold in honor or high respect; revere: to honor one's parents.

This month I have watched honor in action. I have watched my wife honor her mother by showing up Ė daily Ė to help my mother-in-law move from her house of nearly 40 years to a retirement home just two miles away. I cannot say that she worked tirelessly because there were nights she came home completely exhausted. She did not do it for pay, or for favor, or for some latent need for parental approval. When I asked her why she was working so hard at it, her reply was ďItís just what you do for your Mom.Ē

To say the move has been stressful for my mother-in-law would be a gross understatement. Though not to be compared to the loss of her only son 15 years ago, or her husband of nearly sixty years just three years ago, moving from their home of thirty-nine years resurrected memories that took an emotional as well as physical toll on her. All the while, my wife sat with her, cried with her, and often had to gently nudge her forward whenever she had anxious thoughts that suggested she didnít need to do this. However, she did need to do this: since my father-in-law passed away three years ago, she has lived and maintained his dream homeĖ a multi-level log house on several acres. But we could see the physical and financial demands that the property was beginning to take from her future.†Leaving the house became another grieving process of letting go, and my wife was much more patient than I would have been in letting her mom decide when she was ready.

This gentle nudging was another example of how I saw my wife honor her mother. Iíve seen family members at times like these respond in ways that are less honorable. For example, Iíve seen some usurp the autonomy of their aging parent by taking over such that the parent feels trapped, manipulated, or powerless. "Mom, we're selling the house," they declare. Instead I saw my wife constantly remind her mother that decisions were hers to make. On the other extreme, Iíve also seen some family members simply not show up at all, as if to punish their parent for some past grievance. Neither positions are very honorable.

Honoring our parents and the elderly is a basic tenant of every civilization, religion, and culture. But itís often an abstract concept, lacking concrete definition and example. For this, Iíll borrow from the Confucian principle of Filial Piety.†The Fung Loy Kok Institute of Taoism explains this concept:

What is filial piety? There are many aspects of filial piety. The most important of them is to honor your father and mother and attend to their needs. By ďhonorĒ it is meant that you should maintain good conduct and never do things which will shame your parents or make them unhappy. Your parents cared for you without selfish interests. Your mother carried you in her womb for ten lunar months and nursed you for three years. Your parents constantly tended to your needs while you were growing up. You should show your gratitude to them by fulfilling the virtue of filial piety. Filial piety has many aspects. As long as each is performed with all your heart, this virtue is fulfilled. Whatever you do for your parents, do it with goodwill and sincerity.

My wife stepped up to the plate, and I have witnessed true honor in action. I could not be more proud.†