Wednesday Quotes
When Your Mother Grows Older
February 19, 2014


“For other animals have their natural ‘forethought’ which enables them to provide for themselves: whereas man lives by reason, which can attain to forethought only after long experience: so that children need to be instructed by their parents who are experienced. … Consequently a short space of time such as suffices for birds is not sufficient for the education of the offspring in the human species, and a great part of life is required for the purpose.”
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, 122

Your mother turns eighty, or ninety, or seventy, or any more advanced age. It is a real milestone in life–hers and yours. But how do you relate to your mother, after, dare I suggest it, you don’t really need a mother anymore? Indeed, is it not the place of parents to make themselves unnecessary?

This week my mother turns eighty, and it has given me pause. Aquinas suggests that in humans, unlike in other animals, parenting requires many years. Children need much example and training in doing what humans do—if they are to learn to live a truly good human life. If parents have done their part, even with notable shortcomings, they have rendered an irreplaceable service, one of actually infinite worth.

But especially if parents have fundamentally succeeded, their role diminishes as they grow older. Doesn’t it?

My father was not here to turn eighty in December; he passed away in September. But for the last couple years of his life he taught me a lesson I would perhaps not have learned from anyone else: how to grow feeble; and die. With grace.

I know I don’t absolutely need a father anymore—though I should still be learning from the example he set. Perhaps I don’t need a mother anymore either. But it is an amazing blessing that I still have one. One from whom I should still be attentive to learn, even as in other ways our roles shift and now I must serve. But ultimately it is not a question of need anyway; but one of a love, which I have confidence will never cease.

St. Thomas Aquinas (1215-1274) is considered by many to be the greatest theologian and philosopher of the Middle Ages. A Dominican friar, and Master of Theology at the University of Paris, he was known for his humility, and his single-minded devotion to teaching.

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  1. your comment about old age and elderly parents…”not a question of need anyway: but one of a love” gives me some clarity as to how to just be still with them, and show the respect and honor for the life they lived!

    1. Susan, I am very glad to hear that. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Thank you for your excellent posts and photos! I always learn something new or appreciate something more! And thank you for this link from your current post. My mother who is 85 years old is living with us now. The lessons I learn from her now are often more difficult being deeper lessons nonetheless she’s still teaching me!!

    1. I know what you mean! Thank you too.

  3. Kathleen C. Schmiedicke

    Happily read this post today, the 101st anniversary of my mother’s birth. We were blessed to have her live with us for her last 20 months.
    May 18 marked six years since her passing. So many lessons in love and thoughtfulness!! Thank you for the post!

    1. What an incomparable blessing. May her legacy continue to live on–which I have seen with my own eyes…