Reflections on Aging Well

Author, Living with Purpose in a Worn-out Body: Spiritual Encouragement for Older Adults (Upper Room) and Columnist, Aging Well, United Methodist Reporter

Older adults’ emotions amid life transitions November 19, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 7:09 pm

Not long ago, an older friend had to move from her apartment in an independent-living center to go to a skilled nursing facility over an hour away. She is almost 100 years old, and her vision has worsened greatly over the span of the last year. On the day she was scheduled to leave, she told her friends that she would have lunch with them one final time before leaving with her niece. However, when lunchtime arrived, she did not come. As her friends began to show concern about her whereabouts, a staff person finally told them that their friend had quietly left earlier in the day.

At first it seemed that her behavior was a thoughtless act, leaving without telling her dear friends good-bye. Soon though, everyone discovered the real reason she had left without a grand farewell. She had been so afraid that she would be overcome with emotions, she chose to leave early to try to avoid tears and sadness. One thing I’ve learned about older adults is that their families and friends often fail to understand the emotional toll caused by major life transitions.

Most older adults worry that when they move away, they will never again see their friends. We should remember that no one gets to the far end of life’s timeline without experiencing deep loss, including the loss of life-as-we-have-known-it. As churches, families and friends, we should not forget that fact. We should do all we can to nourish the friendships of older adults and help prepare them for upcoming changes.

 

Is anyone asking for wisdom? June 15, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 1:43 pm

My 98 year-old friend had a twinkle in her eye and a sly grin on her face.  “Isn’t it odd that people talk about the wisdom of us old people, but no one asks for it?” 

I almost dropped my fork. Her question was both blunt and unnerving.

It made me wonder why we don’t ask older adults to share the wisdom they’ve gained over a lifetime of experiences.  Is it that we look at their gray heads and slumping shoulders and think to ourselves that anything they have to say about living life is terribly out-of-date?  Do we unintentionally discount their opinions and thoughts because they are not up-to-speed with the latest electronic gadgets?

How long has it been since you asked an older adult to share her wisdom? How long has it been since you’ve asked what she’s learned in her long life that could help you in your journey?  Well… that’s too long. 

 

 

 

 

What can we learn from cell phones and donuts? April 20, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 7:38 am

Last week I went to a bakery not far from one of the retirement communities that I visit each week.  On most Tuesday mornings, I stop by to pick up muffins or slices of banana bread for the older adults I visit.

On this particular day, I stood in line behind a young adult woman who was first-in-line at the counter.  She was talking on her cell phone with great animation and laughter while the owner of the bakery patiently looked at her, anxious to fill her order.  Instead of ending her conversation, the young woman continued to dance around the counter, pointing at muffins and donuts.  She would hold up fingers on her hand, trying to communicate how many blueberry muffins and chocolate donuts she wanted.  All the while, she continued her conversation about… nothing, really.

The episode reminded me of something I had recently heard at an older adult conference.  When the topic of grandchildren came up, an older man confessed that it was hurtful when his grandkids came for a visit but spent all their time on  their cell phones and electronic gadgets. 

“I wish they would just spend some time talking face-to-face,” he said with more than a hint of sadness in his voice. “But they’ve got their faces buried in their phones and their fingers are flying.  It makes me feel unimportant.”

His concern was affirmed by many other older adults in the room. They were not scolding… just sad.

But it’s not just young folks whose heads are buried in iPhones and iPads. I’ve seen many middle-aged folks do the same thing. We all need to understand the consequences of our behavior. It’s more than good manners. It’s about kindness and thoughtfulness… and respect.

 

Never too old to sin March 19, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 3:40 pm

Not long ago I was chatting with a college student about his waitstaff position at a lovely restaurant in his hometown. I knew he was a favorite staff person among the locals and was considered professional and friendly. Somewhere in the conversation, he sheepishly mentioned his least favorite patrons.

“Church people… particularly OLD church people. They are the worst customers ever,” he said.

It would have been funny if I hadn’t known there was truth in his statement. There have been times that I have witnessed very un-Christ-like behavior from a group of silver-haired grandmothers pushing their walkers on the way to Bible study at their retirement community.

The young man continued. “They come right from church on Sunday morning. They’re all dressed up and wear their cross necklaces, yet they are rude and demanding.  To make it worse, they are very stingy tippers.”

Don’t get me wrong. I am pretty sure this behavior is not representative of most senior adults who profess to be Christians. But all of us need to remember that as we age, we have the same bent toward sinning as a 20 year-old or a 50 year-old.  It’s not as though we pass a magic age and somehow surpass the ability to sin. 

It’s something to think about. May we always think about our behavior. Will it glorify God? You never know when a young man is watching.

 

Older adults want authenticity February 26, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 9:06 am

A few days ago I spoke to residents at a large retirement community. Following the event, one of the attendees asked me to sign copies of my books for him. At first glance, he seemed to be the perfect role model for active aging.  He was immaculately dressed, trim and fit, and walked with a spirit in his step. Soon though, he had grown serious as he told me about running hot water over his hands each morning to try to unlock the arthritis in his fingers.  He also talked about dealing with the loss of his wife and pesky feelings of uselessness.

It seems something I had said had struck a chord with him. He wanted me to know that he appreciated the fact that I was honest about the tough realities of aging while also bringing a message hope and encouragement.  “Most people want you to ignore the aches and pains, as if they don’t exist,” he said.  “Thank you for acknowledging the challenges we face and for helping us to move forward. It helps to know that others understand.” 

Some say that age is just mind over matter. To some degree, that’s true.  A positive attitude certainly has much to do with aging well. But I have found that most older adults are anxious for their feelings to be validated. They need to know that the hard realities that often come with aging are not simply brushed away by those who think they know what it is to grow old.

It’s just something to think about.

 

Do you have at least one friend who is 85 years old or older? February 6, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 3:00 pm

When my husband and I built a smaller home, we asked the architect to create a special nook for my Grandmother’s glass-front china cabinet which has been in the family since the late 1800’s. For years it held hand-painted china and my Mother’s depression glass collection. Now its shelves are filled with treasures from older adults who have enriched my life.

Oh sure, there are special family items– my Grandad’s shaving brush and my Grandmother’s manicure set. There’s my Mother’s jewelry box and WWII memorabilia that belonged to my Dad. But alongside the collection of family treasures, there are also letters and handmade gifts from older adults who became my friends late in their lives.  Most were either residents of the retirement community where my parents once lived or were residents of one of the assisted living centers where I visit weekly.  Each of these older persons was at least 85 years old when we first became friends. 

Among the special items, there’s a crocheted bookmark and a tissue paper Valentine, a hand-beaded Christmas tree and an original poem.  Every time I pass by the china cabinet, I am reminded of these special people and the important life lessons they taught me in the last years of their lives.

And so I have to ask. Is your life enriched by having older adult friends, not just your aging relatives? Do you have at least one friend who is 85 years old or older?  No?  May I suggest you get one? You will be blessed.

 

Living Amid Death January 4, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 7:50 am

As the new year begins, it is only natural to take a reflective look back on the past year. For me, 2010 brought great joy and new opportunities, but it also brought the loss of many older adult friends. Within a few months, the two women who had been my mother’s tablemates at a senior residence passed away. Then there was my 93 year-old gentleman friend who always kept me laughing during our special IHOP lunches. The list goes on and on.

Each week when I visit older friends at their care centers and homes, I am struck by the way life and death do their odd dance in these so-called golden years. Almost always, there is someone facing a major medical procedure with a dreary diagnosis. Another has fallen and broken a hip and will be in rehab for months. The ambulance has come for another who lives down the hall. There are conversations about funeral plans while playing Bingo and talk of casket linings at the salad bar. 

It’s a strange mix– life and death. As my 96 year-old friend, Ruby, always said, “It’s just one of those things.” Indeed it is. Death is just one of those things on the minds of older adults. They wonder about how it will come when it’s their turn. Will they go in their sleep as they so desperately hope? Or will earthly life end with some big medical crisis?

In a video study of the Gospel of John, Dr. Mickey Efird of Duke University Divinity School talks about how we don’t like the word “die.” We’d much prefer to say a person “passed away” or that we “lost” someone even though scripture is very straightforward about death. I think Dr. Efird is right. There’s a part of us that wants to cushion death and make it sound somehow softer.

The truth is, living amid death is hard. Living when others are dying all around you is not for the weak of spirit. So I wonder, where is the church in this dance of life and death? Have we chosen to sit this one out and watch from the sidelines? Oh, I pray not.

 

 
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