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

“Fixing” adult children: dilemma of elderly August 31, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 9:27 am

An 83-yr. old woman recently wrote me about how my book encouraged her.  Then she told me that if I write another book, I should include a devotion for older adults who struggle with trying to “fix” their adult children.

 “I need help in dealing with the notion that somehow I can fix my grown son. After all these years, I know I can’t really fix him, but it breaks my old heart to watch him wander so far from God,” she wrote.   

 As I read her letter, I realized that her struggle resonates with loving parents everywhere.  For those like the older woman, it’s worrying about a grown child’s spiritual health.  For others, it’s concern for their physical health, relationships or about a million other things. 

 Just this weekend, I went on a getaway with a close-knit group of middle-aged women whose friendship spans several decades.  As the five of us sat on the front porch of a stone house, our conversation quickly turned to the well-being of our families, including our children who range in age from 17 to 34 and our combined total of 9 grandchildren under the age of 6.

 We went around the rocking-chair circle, getting caught up on the details of our busy lives.  We shared funny stories about a granddaughter’s swimming antics and another’s  vacation mishap.  But there were serious things, too, like a twenty-year old son who is searching for his own identity and life purpose.  We laughed; we cried a bit.  Then we prayed. 

 Like the 83-yr. old woman, we know we cannot “fix” anyone.  Each person’s life journey is his own.  But as mothers, we understand what it is to desperately want your children and grandchildren to walk closely with God and to have healthy, joy-filled lives.   

 Sitting in my circle of friends, I could empathize with the feelings of the elderly mother.  As people of faith near the end of their lives, there is often an intensified concern for the spiritual state of loved ones.    

But when you get to the bottom-line, the best we can do is to love our children as Christ loved us, and to pray without ceasing.  No matter our age.


Top Ten Excuses Christians Give for Not Visiting the Elderly August 23, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 2:58 pm

While standing in line at a store recently, I overheard a conversation between two middle-aged women.  I couldn’t help but notice that each wore a cross around her neck.  Though I didn’t know them personally, my ears really perked up when they started talking about their great-uncle who lived in a nursing home.

“I just can’t do it,” said one sister in frustration. 

The other rolled her eyes and responded, “But if I have to visit him, I’ll be depressed for the rest of the week.”

It was a conversation that made me sad for the elderly uncle, but also for the countless other persons who feel the same way as these two women.  It got me to thinking about the reasons Christians, both pastors and lay persons, give for not visiting frail older adults, including their own family members.   

 I began to write down the excuses I have heard personally.  Next, I asked the Twitter community to respond with excuses they had heard or had given themselves.  Finally, I grouped similar responses into a top-ten  list.  So, with a special hat-tip to David Letterman, here are the not-so-funny excuses Christians give for not visiting the elderly.    

 10.  “Why should I?  All my life, my mother has criticized me.  Nothing’s going to change now that she’s old.  It’s better for both of us if I just stay away.”  

 9.  “I don’t know what to do when I visit an elderly person.  It’s so awkward to just sit and look at each other.”

 8.  “I don’t have the time.  I’ve got a family; I work full-time.  Then there’s Sunday School lessons, choir practice and church meetings.”

 7.  “Other people from my church already visit the elderly.”    

 6.   “But I go Christmas caroling at a nursing home each year.”

 5.    “I didn’t even know Mrs. Jones was in a nursing home.”

 4.   “I work with the youth.”

 3.  “It’s just too sad.”

 2.  “Visiting the elderly is not my gift.”

 1.  “Seeing old people struggle reminds me that I may be like that one day.”


End-of-life issues: tone matters August 17, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 9:34 am

 Late last September, my 92-year old Mother fell in her senior residence and shattered her femur into over a hundred tiny pieces. The fall set into motion a series of health issues, culminating in her death in December.

For almost three years prior to my Mother’s fall, she’d had caregivers twice a day, one in the morning and another in the evening. Each day, I came mid-morning and stayed for three or four hours. Combining efforts, it was a network of care that seemed to be working pretty well.

 Our goal: to satisfy my Mother’s desire to be as independent as possible while also keeping her safe. But as grown children of elderly understand, it’s almost impossible to personally monitor older loved ones every moment of every day.

At the emergency room, I completed the forms with relative ease. I knew the drill. I’d even remembered to grab all her medications, putting them in a large zip-lock bag to take with me to the hospital. My Mother had made her wishes known regarding end-of-life and I had legal documentation. But as the ER doctor began her examination, I found myself becoming more and more uncomfortable as she took on an accusatory tone, quizzing me about the details of my Mother’s fall as if I could or should have prevented it.

Though my siblings and I had taken great precautions, installing grab bars and equipping her with a lifeline, my Mother had fallen while taking less than ten steps to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Now being in terrible pain, she was not able to effectively communicate for herself. I had no first-hand knowledge of precisely what had happened, but I provided information about my Mother’s severe arthritis and the details of her last physical, only two weeks prior.

Even so, the doctor peered over her glasses at me with a cold glare. I confess, I felt like an innocent child being called into the principal’s office for another’s misdeed. But it was the doctor’s tone that troubled me most. I was sure she thought I had somehow been negligent or even worse, abusive to my Mother.

I found myself desperately wanting to defend myself. I wanted her to know that I really had been a devoted daughter. I wanted to say, “Hey, wait a minute. I have dedicated the last three years to my Mother’s care. I’ve taken her to every medical appointment; I’ve ordered and picked up every prescription. I’ve organized each pill into its daily container. I’ve made sure that her hair has been washed and styled, that her clothes are clean, and that her rent is paid on-time. And on top of that, I’ve had lunch with my Mother and her elderly tablemates every day. Ask anybody at her senior residence, and they’ll tell you I’m a caring daughter!”

That was the litany of things I wanted to spout off.

Then came a moment of clarity, not just an emotional response. I realized that, even if I didn’t like her tone, the doctor was asking appropriate questions. She didn’t know me from Adam. I could have been an older adult’s nightmare— the negligent adult child, or even worse, the abusive daughter.

Still, it was an uncomfortable feeling. And it got me to thinking about health care and end-of-life concerns on the minds and lips of every American, particularly older adults.  I admit, I don’t know the answers to such complex issues. But there is one thing I know for sure.

Tone matters. It matters a lot.


Young, Old: Tales from denim slacks to a balance beam August 10, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 3:40 pm

An elderly friend recently told me about an incident that occurred at her senior residence one Sunday morning.  It seems that one of the residents, a sweet-natured 92-year old  great-grandmother with mild dementia, came to breakfast, dressed in her usual attire— casual denim slacks and blouse. 

Over pancakes and sausage, one of the tablemates mentioned something about their Sunday School class which meets in the library following breakfast.  Suddenly, the face of the woman in the denim slacks went pale, as if she had just received tragic news. 

Muttering that she’d forgotten that it was Sunday morning, she abruptly pushed back her barely-touched pancakes and stood up.  In a self-scolding tone, she told her tablemates, “I’ve got to hurry back to my apartment and change clothes.”

Her tablemates tried to assure her that she was dressed just fine for Sunday School.  “No, I’ve got to change into a dress.  My Daddy taught me look my best for church,” she continued.  Then as she began to walk away, she turned back and added, “It’s about respect.”

 When my friend told me the story, I had conflicted emotions.  Initially, I was sad, even a little frustrated, that this sweet 92-year old woman was dealing with the remnants of her long-deceased father’s expectations. I wanted to say, “She just needs to get over it, for heaven’s sake.  I’m pretty sure that Jesus doesn’t care if she wears denim to Sunday School!”    

 But the episode also reminded me of a recent conversation I’d had with a retired minister.  He talked openly about the inner struggle he feels when he sees church members dressed in skimpy clothes and flip-flops, drinking coffee in take-out cups as they gather for worship in the sanctuary. 

 “I know Jesus meets us where we are.  I know he cares more about our hearts than our dress or coffee habits,” he said.  “But I can’t help but wonder what has happened to the idea of biblical holiness and respect.”

 His statement stirred up a vivid memory of my own.  It was Advent almost twenty-five years ago.  Our family was gathered with others to help decorate the sanctuary. As we unpacked the Christmas tree and lights, a 10-year old girl jumped up on the communion rail and began to walk its length as if it were an Olympic balance beam. 

 I remember being stunned, especially when I realized that her parents were seemingly unperturbed, just a few feet from me.  They said nothing to their daughter, and I could feel myself getting upset.  About that time, the minister walked in and surveyed the situation.  Without missing a beat, he asked the girl to help hang the lights on the tree.  But I admit, it bothered me that no one seemed to explain to the girl (or her parents) that the communion rail was something to be set apart for the sacrament.          

 It got me to thinking about my feelings, and the reaction of  the elderly woman and the retired minister.  Each of us brought an expectation partly shaped by our own upbringing and experience.  To the great-grandmother, not being dressed in your Sunday best was a sign of disrespect.  For the retired minister, it was drinking coffee in take-out cups in the sanctuary.  For me, it was using the communion rail as a balance beam.

  I’ve been thinking how discussions about respect at church often disintegrate into young-old conflict.  Older adults are often quick to criticize younger folks for not showing respect for the church building.  Younger folks may counter that older adults get so hung up on building issues and rules that they miss the point of ministry.      

 I think there is truth to be found in both camps.   The challenge is how to talk about such issues so that we can better understand the “why” behind another’s strong feelings.  Maybe, just maybe… a good place to start is with the woman in the denim slacks.


How older adults are intimidated by young people August 3, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 3:25 pm

“What intimidates you about young people?”  It was the question I posed informally to a group of older adult friends when I visited their senior care center a few weeks ago.  Just for the record, they ranged in age from 76 to 97. 

Interestingly, their responses had a similar strain.  They talked about being intimidated by the speed in which young people live their lives.  “They are always doing so many things at once, rushing around,” said one grandmother who grinned as she added, “except when it’s time to get up in the morning.” 

 Around this table of older adults, there was laughter, but I knew the question had serious implications, too.  The pace of most elderly persons is slow or slower, with good reason.  Joints hurt, balance is wobbly, energy is limited.  It’s not surprising that they feel they’ve been left in the dust by their younger, more energetic counterparts.       

 As the conversation continued, it became apparent that the older adults were actually intimidated by younger folks’ fearless and fast use of technology.  As one woman said, “Every time I see my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, they are constantly using their cell phones and Blackberries.  They are talking about Facebook and Twitter, as if I know what they are talking about.  They can’t sit still and have a conversation because they are talking to people who aren’t even in the room.  It’s all about now.  They don’t like to wait.”   

 I could empathize.  I’m no technology moron, but my worst nightmare is having to use to right lingo to talk to a computer troubleshooter. So many terms, so little understanding. 

Recently, my thoughtful daughter-in-law even created a personalized instruction sheet for me, detailing how to operate their TV/DVD/satellite network/sound system when I am babysitting my 9-month old grandson.  With a series of  remotes and a bajillion buttons and unfamiliar symbols, I confess that middle-aged folks can also be intimidated by the ease which younger folks take to technology. 

 But underlying the older adults’ statements about speed and technology, I believe there was a deeper intimidation.  As this group of older adults opened up, they shared  unsettled feelings about being mocked for their lack of  know-how or for being slow.   Some feared that younger folks were bored or uninterested in their long lives.

 And so, in today’s world where information is instant and technology is rapid-fire, I wonder how we can be more understanding of those things that intimidate older adults.    

 Personally, I marvel at young people who are smart and savvy.  In fact, I get a huge kick out of having my grown kids teach me new things.  It was my son who first introduced me to Twitter.  My daughter set up my blog site.  I think God was especially brilliant when he designed the aging process so that we can learn from each other.  In all stages of life.  Young to old, old to young.  With patience.  Kindness.  Respect.