Parenting Parents: A Love Story

8th December 2016 - by Stephen Awre

Necita Fetalvero group visit pic (web 750)
Former Columban lay missionary Necita Fetalvero (far right) is visited at her home by Mary Joy Rile and the Columban Vocations Team.

Mary Joy Rile recounts her visit to the home of former Columban lay missionary Necita Fetalvero, where she discovered a resilient family and how Necita has embraced her new mission to care for her ageing and sick parents. 

Mary Joy Rile is Editorial Assistant of Misyon Online, an online Columban magazine of the Philippine Region.  This article first appeared in Misyon Online in 2015. 

I was privileged in November 2015 to join a group of Columban lay missionaries (CLM) and the Columban vocation team in visiting former CLM Necita ‘Cita’ Fetalvero and her parents Nieto (Tatay) and Lucita (Nanay) in Tubod, Lanao del Norte.

Seeing the family for the first time tugged at my heart, not just because both parents are ageing – with Tatay paralyzed for 25 years from a stroke and bedridden since last year and Nanay with diabetes and due to have a cataract removed – but because they are a symbol of a resilient family.

As we listened to their love story, Nanay’s humour was noticeable. We enjoyed it when she responded with jokes. We recognized that that’s one of the ways she copes with all the challenges she’s been facing over the years. Tatay is her first and last love. Despite the hardships, Nanay is not giving up on Tatay till death do them part.

Cita told us about her usual routine. She is often woken at midnight when Tatay asks her for something or when he can’t sleep. Nanay, in her excitement, tends to forget the doctor’s advice, but Cita makes sure everything is monitored. It’s quite difficult for her, an only child, with both parents needing medical attention.

Cita, who was a CLM in Korea from 2002 until 2011, shared something quite remarkable with me.

When I was on mission in Korea the whole night was for resting but now it’s different. I’ve realized that when you’re home for a family mission to look after ageing and sick parents it’s a 24-hour commitment. But it’s a blessing to accompany them in their twilight years. They’ve given me the gift and opportunity of being a parent to them. Tatay has given me the opportunity to experience being a ‘father’ when I take charge of household needs and decision-making. Nanay has given me the opportunity to be a ‘mother’. Through the years she has stood beside Tatay and I am there to listen to and affirm her and to take care of her each moment as a mother to her. What a beautiful gift, Joy.

Not everybody can have this gift in their lifetime. We are blessed to have this gift and its challenges. But it’s never easy. What sustains me aside from love is the grace to see things with a father’s eyes and to touch them with a mother’s heart. I am also deeply touched and amazed as I witness how love has transformed their lives together in those difficult years until their twilight years. But I feel blessed to witness this. Joy, thank you. In our lifetime we share the same joys and struggles of that gift. Again, it is love. My strength may be exhausted but the love that I can give will never be depleted. I know you are also like that. Sharing with you the blessings of this mission, Joy.

I felt so at home when we visited the Fetalvero family. Meeting them was a touching, powerful experience, so powerful that it became my inspiration when I returned to Bacolod City. I have something in common with Cita. She is taking care of both her ageing parents, while I am taking care of my ageing mother, Mama Lanie, and maternal grandmother, Lola Maring. Before talking to Cita, I was confused about what to do with my life. Meeting her called me to an intense discernment between a lifetime commitment and choosing to serve my family. I am single and can opt to live as I want and be concerned with my own well-being. But learning from Cita’s experience, I know I am on the right track facing the choice between continuing with a life I desire and being a missionary to my own family.

I’m keeping an open line with Cita about parenting parents and trying to differentiate between ‘caring for’ and ‘parenting’. At times you have to struggle to win your parents over just to get them to eat. At times you have to be creative just to be understood. It’s not that your parents are at your mercy but that sometimes you have the responsibility of deciding what’s best for them, as they did before for you.

While attending to their medical needs you have to meet other needs such as keeping the house tidy. You have to be a homemaker, as Cita would say. You have many sleepless nights and many times have to be patient with them even while fighting your own sense of helplessness. It’s as if the parent-daughter roles have been switched.

Let’s journey together, Cita. Knowing that someone else is sharing in our passion is a comfort and encourages us to keep going. So amazing and beautiful is the grace that comes from God! This is grace, to be one in this mission with you, though at a distance. God’s grace speaks the same language as He puts us in similar situations. Thank God for the love, teaching us to love also. Padayon ta. Aja!

I have my share of parenting a parent. That’s why my heart was captured by Cita’s story and I thank her for generously sharing it. I am learning from her experience. I was called to serve in a community for seven years. But now I am called to serve my own family. Yes, I just have to come home this time.