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

What old folks can teach us about the iPad January 31, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 1:56 pm

On the surface, it seems naive to think there’s something a 90 year-old can teach a tech-savvy young person about the new iPad. Certainly older folks are still trying to figure out what the latest electronic gotta-have is all about. Even so, seniors have some good advice for the rest of us. Here’s what a group of residents from a local senior care center shared with me. It’s something to think about. 

First, remember that today’s iPad is tomorrow’s manual typewriter. People in their 80s and 90s have already lived through more changes than you can imagine. The point is, keep a healthy perspective about technological advances, even those that are mind-boggling. The time will come when the iPad is replaced by something newer and even more amazing. The advice of older adults? Guard against thinking that you must have the latest gadget or else! 

On a related note, older adults say younger folks should buy the new iPad only if they can afford it.  Some call that old-school thinking, but it seems reasonable to actually have the money saved before pulling out the plastic. Having survived the Great Depression, seniors have a lot to teach us about doing without or making do with what you already have. Their simple advice before making a purchase? Dream about it. Work for it. Save for it. Then buy it.

Last, older folks are quick to remind younger generations that technology can never replace face-to-face relationships. Most will agree that electronic gizmos have made it easier for them to keep in contact with family members via e-mail, cell phones and such. But they are quick to point out that nothing beats a hug!


Invisible: the least of these January 25, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 7:37 am

Last week my 96-year old friend called to tell me that her dear sister-in-law had passed away during the night. Not long ago I had taken my friend to visit her frail loved one. Her death was not unexpected, but I was startled a bit when my friend told me that she was looking forward to the gravesite service. It seemed an odd thing to say. Turns out that my friend’s cemetery plot is located very near her sister-in-law’s. She was anxious to once again see the place where she would one day be buried under a canopy of trees.

Experience tells me that my friend’s matter-of-fact attitude about death is not unusual among Christians. Those who have a strong foundation of faith are usually not afraid of death. What they are afraid of is becoming invisible to the rest of the world. Of being forgotten. 

Just a few weeks ago, I sat at a dining table with elderly friends at their senior residence. They were not being morbid as they began to name all the residents who had died in the last few years. They know the longer they live, the more losses they will endure. They accept it as part of life.

But now that the holidays are over and the poinsettias given to homebound members have been thrown in the trash, what will our churches do to remember older adults who sit silently in wheelchairs on gray January afternoons? What will the church do to reassure the lonely widows that they have not been forgotten? What will we do to make certain the least of these do not grow invisible as they grow older?


Haiti: a ray of sunshine from an unlikely place January 17, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 5:22 pm

Like almost every person in America, I have been consumed with news about the earthquake in Haiti this week. It’s been impossible to fully concentrate on my writing tasks. Instead I have been watching news broadcasts and reading Twitter, Facebook, blogs and news stories on the internet about the latest rescue-and-recovery efforts. The images have been haunting. So much suffering and tragedy.

But amid the confusion and chaos, there are tiny rays of sunshine streaming through the cracks in the concrete rubble.

Sunshine like the medical mission team from Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas, TX who was in the earthquake in Haiti. The 12-person group was led by 84 year-old retired ophthalmologist Dr. Kenneth Foree and his 75 year-old wife, Lila, who for 30 years have made  mission trips to Haiti and who helped build the Haiti Eye Care Clinic in 1985.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

I am humbled by Dr. and Mrs. Foree’s compassionate commitment, especially at this stage of their lives. At a time when other older adults might be watching a marathon of re-runs on TV, they have chosen to serve the poorest of the poor, the least of these. I hope other older adults will take note: You can still make a difference!

Dr. Foree and several team members were trapped in the debris of their collapsed medical building. Thankfully, due to a miracle of an American miner passing by at just the right time, Dr. Foree and the team members were rescued. Sadly though, one team member died after she had been rescued from the rubble.                                                                                          

In spite of  the tragedy. In spite of the sadness and poverty. I am sure the Haiti Eye Care Clinic will somehow find a way to be a ray of sunshine again.


Aging: a 64-color box of emotions January 10, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 1:50 pm

Lately I’ve been interviewing a number of older adults for another new book. As I’ve sat down face-to-face with these good folks in their eighties and nineties, they have told me about the joys and challenges of aging.  Though there are many common threads in their stories, there is one thing that might surprise readers: the full range of emotions they feel.

Perhaps surprisingly, almost all had glistening eyes and quivery voices at some point during our time together. For many, the emotions bubbled to the surface as they told about the death of a spouse after decades of marriage. For some, it was as they shared difficult stories about war, surviving the Great Depression or the pride of serving one’s country. For one couple, the tears began to flow as they opened up about the death of their infant daughter sixty years ago.

There were also stories of travel and adventure. Of career choices, dreams unfulfilled and roads never taken. There was lots of laughter, too. Then there was both sadness and frustration in the voices of those who shared concerns about the instant-gratification virus they see running rampant in today’s world. 

 What does this mean to us, including the Boomers and the Generation X, Y and Z’s? In our busyness, it’s easy to overlook the fact that older adults feel a full range of emotions. While it’s easy to see them laughing and happy, we have difficulty acknowledging that they may be lonely or depressed, afraid or rejected. 

As I listened to their stories, I was reminded again that long life is shaded in many hues, much like a 64-color box of crayons. I wonder in this new year, will we be more attuned to the feelings of older adults? Will we sit and listen to their stories and affirm their full range of emotions? I wonder.


A New Year’s Legacy January 3, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 1:53 pm

On New Year’s Day, I was driving in the Texas Hill Country with my 14-month old grandson in the backseat. Instinctively, I reached to turn on the radio which was dialed to a local Christian music station. Unexpectedly, my eyes flooded with tears.

The song playing on the radio was the same song that had played in the wee hours of the night almost four years ago as I drove home from the hospital where my much-loved Dad was nearing death. The song was Nicole Nordeman’s “Legacy”. “I want to leave a legacy. How will they remember me?”

It’s funny how music can whisk you back to a particular place and time, unlike anything else. I remember it as if it were yesterday. It was a humid, early spring night. My brother had come to complete the night’s bedside vigil so that I could get a few hour’s rest.

The roadways were almost empty as I drove home, weary and emotionally worn. I turned on the radio and heard those haunting words. Even though I had listened to the song many times before, on that night, the lyrics took on new meaning, knowing that Dad’s long life was drawing to a close. I couldn’t help but ponder what a powerful influence his life had been on so many people, especially his family.

Now on New Years’ Day 2010, the same words swirled through the car once again. “I want to leave a legacy. How will they remember me? Did I choose to love? Did I point to You enough to make a mark on things? I want to leave a legacy.”

As the tears fell, I realized they were not tears of deep sadness or grief. My Dad had lived an amazingly full 89 years. I was crying because I wished my grandson could have known him. Suddenly I was reminded that the passing of my father’s legacy is up to us—the rest of the family.

It is up to us to see that my grandson learns the stories of his great-grandfather. Of how he loved to sing the repeating bass line in favorite hymns. Of how he and my Mother sat on a pew with a funny knot hole, and how they drove for Meals on Wheels and visited lonely people in nursing homes.

I want to make sure my grandson knows all the funny stories about family vacations, campfires and fishing, and about how my father handcrafted the walking stick he plays with from wood he’d gathered on a two-month trip to Alaska. I want him to understand the significance of the name he carries and the faithfulness of his great-grandfather.

Most of all, I want my little guy to know that his great-grandfather certainly chose to love, abundantly and selflessly. And that the rest of us will strive to continue his legacy.