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

Resurrection reflection March 31, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 8:58 am

My friend died yesterday. Just days after celebrating her 96th birthday, Flo passed away in her sleep, exactly as she had hoped death would come when it was her time. When I received the news from her senior care center, I was not really surprised. I had taken her to the doctor a week before because she had not been feeling well. It had become more difficult for her to walk long distances. Even as I had the prescription filled, Flo announced matter-of-factly that medicine wouldn’t keep an old heart from wearing out.

As I hung up the phone, my mind wandered through the many memories I had shared with this faith-filled, straight-shootin’ woman. I thought about how she talked about death and dying, never dwelling on it, but fully anticipating the joy of eternity. My mind jumped to the yellow daffodils I had given her on her birthday, remembering that she said she was going to enjoy them until they finally shriveled up and dropped their brown petals.

Oftentimes people ask me how I deal with the sorrow that comes from interacting with many older adults, especially those who are struggling physically in the last years of their life. They want to know why I am not overwhelmed by sadness. 

Yes, of course it is hard when older friends and loved ones pass away. When I see how quickly their apartments are cleaned out and their “things” are discarded, it is a sobering reminder of what’s really important in life. I also know that in God’s amazing design, life is intended to be lived out in community, until one’s last breath. We glorify Him when we walk alongside and encourage one another. 

So I can celebrate Flo’s life with great peace because she was confident in the promise of eternity. I will miss her face-to-face friendship, but I will cling to the rich stories of her life.

No doubt the yellow daffodils have withered. Their petals have turned brown and have dropped onto the table. It seems much like Flo’s life. She found joy until the last petal fell.  Now she has left her walker and her slow, painful steps behind. Because of Easter, she is dancing in the presence of her Lord.

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Live ’till I die March 23, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 6:40 am

Last week I helped with a little party to celebrate the 96th birthday of a friend. She is widowed and has no children. Just three days later, she was experiencing breathing difficulties and chest pains whenever she walked a long distance.

When I arrived at her senior apartment with a borrowed wheelchair to take her to the doctor, she didn’t even fuss. This fiercely independent woman would normally put up a fight about riding in a wheelchair, preferring to push her walker through the long halls of the medical office. But on this day, she just sank into the wheelchair and mumbled a word of gratitude.

Later she had a series of tests including an EKG. The doctor determined that her heart was in pretty good condition for someone her age and that she was suffering from angina. As he wrote a prescription, my friend announced, “Well, it’s pretty simple. I’ll live ’till I die.”

She smiled. I smiled. The doctor looked up, unsure if it was OK to smile or not. Seeing our faces, he quickly broke into a wide grin.

It was a profound statement I thought. Living until you die. Regrettably, there are people of all ages who have already drawn the shades on living, as if the final curtain has fallen. They have little interest in learning something new or in helping others. Regrettably they just go through the motions of life without investing themselves fully. 

I began to think about my friend’s attitude.  She knows she might die today, tomorrow or a year from now. But until then, she’s going to live. Engaged in the world and grateful for the blessings of a long life.

 

It ain’t sexy March 14, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 5:55 pm

I suppose it is not politically correct, but I confess I giggled a bit at the recent review Publishers Weekly gave my newest book, Talking with God in Old Age: Meditations and Psalms. Now don’t get me wrong. I was thrilled to have had my book singled out for review in the prestigious publication, especially considering the volumes of book releases that flood the market. Besides it was a positive review!  But when I read this line, I just couldn’t stifle the smile:

The author won’t win big-time recognition — old age ain’t sexy, either — but she should win many readers, who will recognize their own words, thoughts, and laments.

I am quite aware that my large-print paperback is not likely to go toe-to-toe with a Rick Warren or a Max Lucado, so it’s not surprising that the reviewer thinks my chances of winning wide media coverage are slim to none. But I couldn’t help but laugh when I read that old age ain’t sexy. It’s not exactly a phrase that I would have expected to read about a little devotional book for senior adults, particularly those who are frail..  

No doubt the reviewer was trying to make the point that things like yellowed nails and varicose veins are not the makings of a steamy romance novel. The thing is, they are very real. That’s why I write about them.

Through my years of working with and befriending older adults, I have found that they are not interested in sugar-coated prose. They are most anxious for younger people to understand their reality. In fact, it is because they have accepted their reality that they are able to find joy and laughter in their long lives.  

So yeah, writing about the challenges of aging will never be sexy, I suppose. But it is real. And when I see the misty eyes of a 90 year-old who grabs my hand and tells me that the book brings her comfort in the wee hours of the night, that’s recognition enough for me.

Publishers Weekly review: www.bit.ly/dcIqHv

 

Toddler to centenarian: Nature’s best March 9, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 8:50 am

Last weekend I kept my 16 month-old grandson at his home in the Texas Hill Country. Early each morning, we would make the rounds to his favorite play areas in the house.  He loved climbing the stairs to look out the window for deer or for the neighbors’ dogs.  He would beat on his toy percussion set for a while then suddenly jump up to roll a ball or pull a wooden train.  

Eventually though the store-bought activities lost their appeal. It seemed the plastic giraffes and musical frogs were fun for a while, but they just couldn’t hold a toddler’s attention for a long time.  Soon he was getting a little cranky.  

As soon as it was warm enough, I’d put on his shoes, zip up his jacket and we’d head to the front yard.  For an hour or more, he would pick up rocks and poke them into every hole and crevice he could find. He watched a lady bug crawl on a small shrub. He gathered twigs only to put them down again, and tried to strip the bark off a tree. At one point, his face brightened into a wide grin at the sound of birds in a nearby tree.      

It got me to thinking about the soothing power of nature upon people, especially older adults who have stayed cooped up in a house or in an apartment or room of a senior residence.  There’s something about being out in God’s creation that brings comfort,  hope and inner peace. Before my 92 year-old mother passed away, she sometimes commented on the healing power of sunshine and a spring day. She loved to spend time on the porch where she could hear the birds and watch the clouds drift by.

I remember taking my almost-100 year-old uncle outside one day while visiting him at a nursing home. From inside his room, he had been watching roses bloom near the parking lot, but he didn’t have enough energy to roll himself outside.  He said the staff didn’t have time to take him. So he sat inside, yearning to be in the fresh air. I rolled him out the front door and positioned him next to the red roses. I watched him lean in to take in the fragrance. It was a tender scene.

As spring quickly approaches, I can’t help but wonder about all the frail men and women who are desperate for someone to roll them outside and let them bask in the glory of nature. Who will take the time to push a wheelchair or walk alongside someone whose steps are slow? Let us always remember that there’s something about God’s creation that draws us close.

 

Grandma’s technology challenge March 2, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 8:19 am

An interesting thing happened to me last week. For the first time ever, I participated in a on-line chat about my book, Living with Purpose in a Worn-Out Body which is on the United Methodist Women’s 2010 Reading Program list. The UMW hosted the chat from their office in New York while I sat at my computer in Texas. Women from across the globe were invited to participate.  It was a fun event, and I enjoyed meeting the women on the screen to discuss aging and faith issues.

But I was most intrigued by e-mails I received both before and after the chat. They were from women who had wanted to participate but had been apprehensive about the on-line chat. They had been unsure of the process and chose to contact me by e-mail instead. It seemed one of those moments when age really does matter. Several of the women identified themselves by age, as if that would explain their hesitancy.  These four women were ages 67 through 81. It got me to thinking.

I look at myself as compared to my young adult children, ages 26-33, and wonder how it is that they are so fearless when it comes to technology. Like the women who e-mailed me, there are times when I am fearful of doing something that might lead to  corrupting or deleting my  files. And my worst nightmare is having to talk to a computer service person on the telephone. 

Perhaps it is as people have often said:  young people today have only known life with ever-changing technology.  They adapt to every new gadget and gizmo with ease while the rest of us pause and wait for reassurance.  However, I know there are many Boomers and older adults who contradict the norm and jump into the technology whirlwind with both feet first. Still it’s something to think about.

There are times when one of my grown kids will sit patiently with me, teaching me the how-tos of something that is unfamiliar.  It helps that they don’t roll their eyes or mock me. In fact, they are great encouragers.  Isn’t that the way it should be? Sure, age matters in the way we approach technology, but for this grandmother a word of encouragement will always cross the generational divide.