While back in France last week, visiting my mother in her nursing home, I remembered those words from Ajahn Chah:
Those who look after their parents should have their virtues, too. You have to be patient and tolerant. Don't feel disgust. This is the only time you can really repay your parents. In the beginning you were children, and your parents were adults. It was in dependence on them that you've been able to grow up. The fact that you're all sitting here is because your parents looked after you in every way. You owe them a huge debt of gratitude. So now you should understand that your mother is a child. Before, you were her children, but now she's your child. Why is that? As people get older, they turn into children. They can't remember things; their eyes can't see things; their ears can't hear things; they make mistakes when they speak, just like children. So you should understand and let go. Don't take offense at what the sick person says and does. Let her have her way, in the same way you'd let a child have its way when it won't listen to its parents. Don't make it cry. Don't make it frustrated.
It's the same with your mother. When people are old, their perceptions get all skewed. They want to call one child, but they say another one's name. They ask for a bowl when they want a plate. They ask for a glass when they want something else. This is the normal way things are, so I ask you to contemplate it for yourself. [...] As for those looking after the sick person, have the virtue of not feeling disgust over mucus and saliva, urine and excrement. Try to do the best you can. All of the children should help in looking after her.
She's now the only mother you have. You've depended on her ever since you were born: to be your teacher, your nurse, your doctor — she was everything for you. This is the benefaction she gave in raising you. She gave you knowledge; she provided for your needs and gave you wealth. Everything you have — the fact that you have children and grandchildren, nice homes, nice occupations, the fact that you can send your children to get an education — the fact that you even have yourself: What does that come from? It comes from the benefaction of your parents who gave you an inheritance so that your family line is the way it is.
The Buddha thus taught benefaction and gratitude. These two qualities complement each other. Benefaction is doing good for others. When we've received that goodness, received that help: Whoever has raised us, whoever has made it possible for us to live, whether it's a man or a woman, a relative or not, that person is our benefactor. Gratitude is our response. When we've received help and support from benefactors, we appreciate that benefaction. That's gratitude. Whatever they need, whatever difficulty they're in, we should be willing to make sacrifices for them, to take on the duty of helping them. This is because benefaction and gratitude are two qualities that undergird the world so that your family doesn't scatter, so that it's at peace, so that it's as solid and stable as it is.
Yes, with only one caveat. My mother may have fallen in same state of dependence as a child, but she is not a child, she is not my child. She is very much a grown woman, only now with a decaying mind, a decaying body. She is my mother still trying to care for me. "You should cover yourself better. You are going to catch a cold . . ."