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

Mary pushed a walker, Joseph used a cane December 21, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 8:49 am

Yesterday afternoon, a 90-year old woman played the role of Mary in a living nativity. As the narrator told the birth story, she pushed her walker alongside Joseph who took slow steps while leaning on his cane. Once seated at the manger, I saw tears well-up in her eyes.  

Earlier, I had heard someone ask her how she felt about being Mary in the nativity story at her senior care residence. Her answer was brief but profound. “I consider it a high honor to be asked to be the mother of Jesus, even for a play.”

There were other heartfelt moments of the all-senior-adult living nativity. Two great-grandmothers, angels with cardboard wings attached to their wheelchairs, got their tinsel tangled in the hallway, causing a few giggles. A third angel wearing pink lipstick and a sling around her neck reached out with her “good” arm to touch the baby Jesus.

 A shepherd who came in a wheelchair forgot to lower his walking staff as we went through the doorway. There were white terrier dogs instead of sheep. And one wise man complained that if her crown was pushed down too far, her ears would stick out.

Sure, it was an unlikely telling of the birth story. But an important truth began to shine as brightly as the star of Bethlehem. All of us are invited to step into the Christmas story. No matter our age or limitations. God wants us to come… just as we are… to the manger. There we will find Christmas.


On the inside looking out December 14, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 8:55 am

Since the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, I have watched twenty-three Christmas movies on TV, and my list is growing.  That’s because I am recouping from an intensive case of shingles that erupted on my face and in my ear, causing nerve pain and draining my usual energy and focus.   

 I’ve been secluded in my home at the busiest time of year, when the rest of the world is bustling with Advent/ Christmas activities.  Even so, a sudden turn of events has a way of bringing new perspective.  I have come to realize that I am experiencing what frail older adults experience every day.  I’m on the inside looking out.

Like many shut-ins, I have been unable to attend  worship services at my church for this entire Advent season.  My husband brings me the bulletin each week, but it’s just not the same as standing with the congregation to sing a Christmas carol. I’ve had to decline invitations for holiday concerts and parties because I just haven’t felt up to it.  I’ve also had to depend on others to do countless tasks like get stamps for my Christmas cards and to buy more tape and wrapping paper.   

But unlike many frail older adults, I have had the luxury of being plugged-in to technology.  My Christmas shopping has been done with a few clicks.  Even though I’m not bounding with energy, I am  able to keep up with correspondence and writing projects.  And I can watch live-streaming of worship services in churches thousands of miles away.

Just as God’s economy is often surprising, being sidelined this year has brought many blessings. There have been neighbors who have called and left soup on the doorstep. Friends who have run errands and others who have surprised me with poinsettias and Christmas CDs.  But perhaps the greatest blessing of all is that I better understand the feelings of those frail elderly whose physical limitations keep them at home.  I think I understand what it feels like to be on the inside, looking out.


Tips for helping older adults have a Merry Christmas December 7, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 8:46 am

Tip #1   Create and send personalized Christmas cards using photo taken of older adult in holiday attire. Be sure to include return address to make it easy for friends and family to send cards in return.

Tip #2   Ask family members to write about favorite memories of older loved one. Make a keepsake booklet.

Tip #3   Decorate a small tree using the older person’s memorabilia and old photos.

Tip #4   Take them on a tour of their old neighborhoods to see holiday lights.  If mobility is an issue, ask old friends and neighbors to come out to the car for a quick greeting (thanks to cell phones).

Tip #5   Invite them to write the prayer for a family dinner/ worship service. Provide copies of the prayer to all to read together.

Tip #6   For bedridden elderly, light a tree outside where she can see it from her bed or chair.  Use an auto-timer.

Tip #7   Take time during a family celebration to watch old 8mm movies of past Christmases.

Tip #8   Feature grandmother’s dessert dishes or some family heirloom as a way to honor older loved ones.

Tip #9   Ask older adults to share stories of what Christmas was like when they were young.  Be respectful.  Listen.

Tip #10   Organize a group of senior care residents to go caroling to their neighbors in the care center.  Pass out jingle bells for all to enjoy.

Tip #11   Use old family photos to create personalized gift tags.

Tip #12   Organize an All-Senior-Adult Living Nativity scene for your church, senior center or community.

Tip #13   Give a gift of music that older adults at a senior center can enjoy.  Hire a harpist or ask a choral ensemble to provide holiday tunes during lunch.

Tip #14   Invite older adults to help prepare for a family celebration in some way: folding napkins, polishing silver, etc.

Tip #15   Rent old holiday TV specials— Andy Williams, Bob Hope, etc.— and set up the DVD player for older loved ones to enjoy.