Saturday, January 3, 2015

Change that Comes with Aging

As I visited with friends and family over Christmas, I had several conversations with adult children regarding aging parents. Some of these parents have been living in elderly care homes for a while now, some have recently moved into one and others are contemplating it. It’s interesting how some of the aging parents are doing fine with the change (better in some cases than the adult children), while other parents are fighting the change all the way, making life very difficult for their adult children.

It seems as though the ones having the roughest time, be it the adult children or the aged parents, are the ones whose basis for life is the material. Because if life comes down to the house that was lived in for thirty years, then that is sorely going to be clung to and missed when it can no longer be lived in, to the point of rejecting the new residence one finds oneself in.

If, however, the Lord goes with us, then we will be home wherever we are. Not to say that transitions aren’t bittersweet, or at times melancholy, but we, in sincere faith and trust in God, can adjust as God equips us. We must trust in this. I, along with most, do not relish losing any independence, or leaving my house and yard and the memories therewith. Yet God is my hope and my refuge that when and if that day comes, I will go in the guidance of the Shepherd, lacking nothing. I will go, assured that God’s “goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:6a).

Contentment, as we learn from Paul, comes from the Lord. Refuge and strength, as we learn from King David, comes from the Lord. True peace, as we learn from Jesus, comes from Jesus, the Lord. In all places, at all times, in every stage of life, the Lord is our portion (Psalm 73:26).

As a young Girl Scout, volunteering to push the candy cart through what we then called “the old folks home,” I couldn’t imagine a worse place to live. It wasn’t until I visited an elderly facility on an Indian reservation in Arizona a few years ago that I saw what a beautiful place a “home” can be. It was then that God began changing my heart attitude toward places for the elderly.

See, when we are in our 50’s, as many of my friends and I are now, and still full of vitality and vibrant life, it is very difficult for us to think about our parents, much less ourselves, living in an elderly care facility. We say, “That’s no way to live,” as we go about our daily activities, still able to stoop low to wash our own floors and bathtubs, plant tulip bulbs in the fall, and cook our own meals without dropping a heavy skillet. It is difficult for us to see anything good in living in, or, as we tend to say “being put in” a home.

Yet, difficult as it may be to imagine, some day our health may require a move to a home, and it will be a good thing if our mind agrees. Because to be a physical demand on someone who cannot sustain that demand, or to be a worry on the minds of our kids when we could bring them peace that we are, indeed, being looked after around the clock, is actually selfish. Certainly our children need to not be selfish and must do what they can to make their parents comfortable and secure, first in their parents’ own home (or bringing the parent to live with them) and then, when needed, in a reputable care facility.

To the aged, 20-40 years our senior, to those who are infirm or weakening in body and mind, an elderly home may be a welcome retreat. Granted, there are despicable homes and workers therein. It is a disgrace for offspring to be careless and uncaring in where they choose for their parents to live. And it is despicable for government-run facilities for those on a limited income to be afterthoughts and given no consideration or oversight.

What I’m talking about are elderly homes of integrity, many of them Christian, where the residents are well cared for, looked after and respected (and the offspring make sure that this is so and visit often). In these places, life for someone in their last years or days can be a welcome relief: no more worries about not being able to clean their own living space; no more concerns about having to drive or find someone to drive them to the grocery store; no more stress about cooking and forgetting to turn the burner off; and no more fear of intruders taking advantage of their frailty.

The saddest part of living in an elderly home, no doubt, is that of being separated from one’s spouse. But even then, with long visits during the day, there is the knowledge that one is not damaging and stressing the health of their able spouse by one’s own health needs. A good elderly home will allow married couples to be together as much as possible.

A great solution is to have the married couple move into an assisted living apartment where the couple can still live together with all of the accompanying care of a knowledgeable and loving staff. If one spouse can and still wants to cook and clean, they can. But the option is there if they choose not to.

These life changes, though difficult, are also beyond our control, and resisting them will keep us, and our parents, from aging gracefully. The alternative is to face into change, knowing God will not forsake us and will in fact prosper us in new purpose.

 “My grace is sufficient for you,” Jesus tells us, “for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). If we truly believe that, not just as we age, but as we face every hurdle and unwanted change in life, things will go well for us. Aging ourselves and guiding our parents through the process of aging is just another aspect of life in which we faithfully trust God to navigate. To do otherwise is to constantly “kick against the goads” (Acts 26:14). And that, truly, is “no way to live.”

"The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name's sake.
Even though I walk 
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, 
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
forever." Psalm 23

"My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." Psalm 73:26

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