US Catholic Faith in Real Life

"Fly While You Still Have Wings" teaches us how to accompany and understand aging parents

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By Joyce Rupp (Ave Maria, 2015)
The dozen books that Joyce Rupp has published with Ave Maria Press have sold more than a million copies, making Rupp a powerhouse in the world of Catholic books. Now comes what many say is her best book yet, Fly While You Still Have Wings: And Other Lessons my Resilient Mother Taught Me, Rupp’s honest account of her relationship with her mother during Hilda Rupp’s final years.
 
A member of the Servite community and a renowned speaker, retreat leader, and spiritual director, Joyce Rupp says she is first an Iowa farmer’s daughter. In this book we encounter Hilda, whose dad gave her a cow for a wedding present. In a 1965 diary entry she scribbled a chronicle of backbreaking labor without an ounce of self-pity: “Hot and humid. Did 10 loads of wash. Waxed all hardwood floors. Baked two cakes. Got vegetables from garden. Men combined and baled hay.” To this her daughter adds the wry comment: “(This meant she made dinner for them).”
 
Rupp is remarkably honest about the consequences her mother bore from living with Rupp’s father, who, despite many good attributes, verbally abused his wife, insulting her and calling her “stupid.” Rupp describes this as the “shadow side of resiliency”: accepting too much, tolerating ridicule to avoid conflict. “I am astounded that my mother did not become an embittered, resentful old woman. But she became just the opposite.”
 
As Rupp sorts through the qualities that carried Hilda through her old age, she also describes her own reactions to her mother’s decline—recognizable signposts for those who have walked this road with an aging parent. As elderly parents try to come to grips with their own mortality, adult children face their own crises at the looming loss of a parent. Often they end up making decisions the elderly person can still make for themselves, uttering thoughtless and patronizing comments, offering well-meaning but arrogant advice, and insisting on “helping” that makes the adult child, not the parent, feel better. Of course, these often lead to a bumper crop of regrets once the parent has died, which Rupp also experienced.
 
Thanks to both Hilda and Joyce Rupp, this book will help you to grow old well, and it will also help you learn how to be a true companion to your own parents as they age. To the farmer's daughter and her mother, well done.
 
This review appeared in the June 2015 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 80, No. 6, page 43).
Published: 
Monday, June 8, 2015