For so many elders, life begins to decline, as health fails, minds become less sharp, and eyes and ears become dim and muted. When my mother had to finally go to a Nursing Home, I spent many hours there every day. I observed a variety of ways elders cope with the process. Some were pleasant and eager to visit, get involved in activities, and were thrilled with any attention. They appreciated my efforts to visit with them when I visited my mother. Others were withdrawn, grumpy, and chose to just sit in the common areas or in their rooms. Many were confused, and I know many did not feel well, or were in pain. Sadly too many spent day after day with no family coming to visit. One sweet lady said she had no family left, except a sister-in-law. This lady was not from Nebraska, had never been to Nebraska, but ended up here because of her only relative. She was very lonely, and lit up when anyone talked to her. One day as I walked past her room, I heard her crying. It broke my heart. I stepped in, and when she saw me she smiled. I gave her a hug, listened to her, and stayed to pray with her. It was nothing special on my part, just the love of Christ showing through me. I am so glad I had that time with her, because not long after that, she got very ill, and could no longer sit and visit. I treasure the wealth of life and experiences I learned from her. We all can learn from the elders around us, if we would take time to hear their stories.
I also discovered that if I took our dog, Samson with me, they all wanted to pet him and talk to him. We some times forget that these elders once had lives that included pets and all the things we still enjoy. Just because we age, doesn't mean we no longer love, or enjoy the things we once did. There is nothing quite so sad as an elder that is forgotten or ignored. Aging is a process that is not always easy, and to have to do it alone is heartbreaking. I didn't always enjoy visiting my mother every day, but I am grateful that I did. I learned a lot in those three years, and met some really sweet people. That I cared about. My little circle of elders also loved listening while I read the Bible out loud. I prayed with them, gave them hugs, and loved on them, and listened to them. For a season, God gave me a mission field that was a huge blessing.
I also had the privilege of being my mother-in-law's care giver for three years. We were blessed to move her down the hall from us. As she became more dependent on me, I learned more about the aging process. Just imagine for a moment what it feels like to be 90 plus. Physical ailments compound one on another, you can't see as much, and you can't hear very well. You find yourself in a body that doesn't respond the way it used to be able to. You can't remember so many things, and your world has become very confused. I used to get frustrated with my mom-in-law, Mary, because she was so child like, yet at 97 I thought she should know better, or at least be able to understand. The reality was that she couldn't help the confusion. I tried to imagine her world, what she was feeling. She was slowly piece by piece losing who she used to be. She was losing control over a life that had been independent and confident. When she was stubborn, it was because she really couldn't comprehend, or because it a last stand for some kind of control. It must feel like total isolation.
I have a sister and brother-in-law whose health now will necessitate giving up their home, and going to a nursing home. I know the pain, anger, and confusion they will experience, yet God's plan is in their best interest. My prayer for them and all of us as we age, is that God will smooth the way. I pray that with this view of understanding and compassion, that life will be easier for our elders, and for us. Our elders have a lifetime of experience, talent, and legacies. They deserve our respect. Somewhere inside is still the talented, vibrant, educated person that lived, and loved, and laughed at 20, 30,40,50,60, and beyond!