Wednesday, April 25, 2012

An Obligation of Love

Both Mom and I feel a strong obligation to provide Lyn with the love and care she deserves.  For us, like so many other care providers, it is unfathomable that we would not strive to satisfy that obligation.  But, the question remains, are we really obligated to care for her and what does it mean to do so?

An obligation is a course of action to which a person is bound to arising from custom, law, or a sense of duty.  It may be a binding promise, a moral requirement or even a contract.  As a foster parent, I am obligated to provide a certain type of discipline for the children placed in my care.  For example, I signed a legal contract stating that I would not use physical discipline.  In that case, I have taken on that obligation as a result of my own beliefs on discipline (the moral requirement) and a legal contract.  But is providing care for my sister an obligation in the same way?  

Today, there is no legal requirement to continue caring for Lyn.  She is, after all, an adult in her own right.  However, there is the moral requirement to continue at least check in and make sure she's ok.  Beyond that, there is the obligation of love that keeps us more closely involved in her daily life and meeting her care needs.  

The obligation of love answers the question of "If not I; then who?" before the question is really asked.  If I do not step forward, then who will do so?  Obviously, Lyn is fortunate to have Mom in her life.  From the moment she was born, Mom has daily answered that question.  It doesn't matter that Mom had to sleep sitting up in a chair for months on end, holding Lyn upright so she could breathe.  Or, that 40 years later, Mom is back to making sure she can breathe at night.  The obligation of Mom's love for Lyn, makes those efforts something that is done without question.     

In a recent conversation with a new acquaintance, she spoke to me about her own mother's dementia and her father's insistence that her care is his job.  He refuses to seek the assistance of others despite the demands of his own health concerns.  He explains it to his children that this extreme commitment on his part is a result of how seriously he takes their marriage vows.  While I admire the sense of duty he is expressing, I pointed out that seeking assistance does not break those vows in any way.  He can still meet his obligation by ensuring his wife is cared for even if that means that others are doing the bulk of the work.  

Mom and I recognize this duality in our own commitments to Lyn.  There may come a time when her needs are beyond what either of us can provide directly.  Placing her physically in the care of a nursing home does not mean we are shirking our obligations to her.  Now, if we were to place her and not visit or check in on her, that may be a different story.  It is the walking away that would be the problem.


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