A Biblical Perspective On Caring For Aging Loved Ones

When I was very young, maybe five, I visited my great-grandmother. She was crippled with arthritis and bed-ridden and she scared the crap out of me. She said, “come here let me squeeze the puddin’ out of ya'” and I thought she really could squeeze the life out of me. Of course, I know better now, but that doesn’t change the fact that my only living memory of a woman I would later love and respect is one of fear and retreat.

When I was a little older, I used to visit nursing homes with my parents. We would sing old hymns and dad would preach a short sermon. Then we would visit the rooms and pray with anyone that needed it. I remember the people would smile and mumble along to the familiar tunes. They were especially happy to see young people and stared at my sister and me as if they could drink in our youth through exposure. I remember they smelled like moth balls and looked a little frightening with their sagging jaws and skin.

When I became an adult, I volunteered at a nursing home to help teach a lady to paint. I went into her room and talked to her about her life and shared with her some fun techniques to try with her art. I got to know her and some of her life story. She didn’t seem old or scary, she was experienced and interesting with a strong, healthy mind. I thought of her as a friend. One day she had bad headaches and couldn’t see me. One day turned into two. Another day she was fine and happy to talk again, but she told me she didn’t want me to “waste my time” coming out there. I got busy and stopped coming for a while. The next I heard, she was dead and gone. I never got to say goodbye.

I think humans are funny about age. When we are born, we think it is adorable when babies are covered in drool, spilling their food, and making messes. We have compassion for their short-comings and reward every small gain they have because it is progress. But when all these things happen with an adult, we treat them with fear and disdain. We invest in plastic surgery, exotic pills, and drastic health care programs to try to stave off getting older. Nothing stops the inevitable.

It’s one thing to deal with the effects of aging personally, but what about when our parents are getting older?

My pastor, Andrew Price, says there are four stages that aging parents go through.

  1. First, they become grandparents and enjoy being able to invest in their kids’ kids without all the hard work of day-to-day parenting.
  2. Second, they become retirees and get to reap the rewards of hard work and investments. They have time to relax, travel, and enjoy life. They make great mentors for others at this stage.
  3. Thirdly, they realize they can’t do all they used to do and they have to start relying on their kids to do some things for them. During this role-reversal stage, parents worry about having enough insurance and money to cover their needs and children struggle to care for their parents without treating them like children.
  4. Fourth, they become completely dependent on others for their care. In this stage, parents are no longer able to care for themselves, so the kids have to arrange for care for them. This can become a financial and emotional burden for everyone.

Children’s children are a crown to the aged,
    and parents are the pride of their children. Proverbs 17:6, NIV

There is a lot of joy for stages one and two here, but I feel a deep sadness for stages three and four. Some may say it is because dealing with aging parents reminds us of our own mortality, but for me, it is more personal than that. My parents are my heroes; I’ve always looked up to them. They are barely into their sixties, yet I am living through part of these later stages with them now because of their health.

It is hard to see your heroes get knocked down.

It is hard to see them depend on people for their basic care. It is infuriating when those people also don’t care about doing their jobs well...if at all. Strangers will never know the value of your loved ones or care to know their story the way you do.

What is also hard about stages three and four is realizing that the person you love may not be with you much longer. You’ve gotten used to life with them in it. Now you feel cheated to think they won’t be there for the rest of it. At some point, whether you want to or not, we all have to say goodbye and try to live without our loved ones. It’s not easy.

I’ve had to say goodbye to more loved ones than I care to think about, and I have never been good at it. I’ve realized that I have a lot to learn from old people, even the mean, and scary ones.

Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.  Psalms 90:10 NIV

Some Lessons I’ve Learned From Older People

First, take care of your health. The stuff you put off when you are young catches up to you when you are old. It pays back with interest…negatively.

Second, spend quality time with the people you care about. If you didn’t care to get off your phone and play with them when they were young, why should they care about taking time out of their busy lives to visit you when you are old?

Third, be encouraging to your children. No child deserves to be put down by their parents. If you can’t be nice to them and encourage them into being a better person, you probably shouldn’t have been a parent at all. Don’t be surprised when no one comes to your funeral.

Fourth, plan ahead. Save what you can save. Invest what you can invest. Life costs more when you are older.

Fifth, don’t live with comparisons and regrets. You can control your choices but you can’t control them for someone else. You gain nothing from holding back on your dreams and goals or comparing what you have to what others have. At the end of the day, Facebook lies, Twitter glimpses, and Instagram only shows the cropped shots. If you get too caught up in what others have, you will end up scared and wasteful with what you do have.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot… What do workers gain from their toil?  I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race.  He has made everything beautiful in its time. 

He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.  

I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.

I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear (revere) him.

–Ecclesiastes 3:1-14, NIV

Freedom Isn’t Free: A Veteran’s Story

I grew up on amazing stories of how the roads got wound into tight knots around my house and lost brides became ghosts. Later, the fairy tales were replaced with war stories of incredible bravery and survival. There were dozens of stories. In these stories, enemy fire landed beside him and didn’t go off or in the place behind him after he left.

Entire teams of guys were killed, and he was the only survivor…multiple times. They were his mates, his buddies, his family. But he had a family back home to get home to too; a wife and three young sons were praying for him. Back then, there was no internet, video chatting, or other instant forms of communication. They wrote letters.

Every time God saved him was a confirmation that there was something more in store for him. After multiple tours, multiple dangers, and multiple saves, he finally returned home. Then he was assigned to a base in Colorado. There his eldest son met the love of his life and married her. He finally retired and moved back to Carolina. Not long after, his newly married son and daughter-in-law had me.

The bulk of my childhood was spent going back and forth between Colorado and Carolina. We spent three days on the road just getting from one state to the other. Instead of theme parks and vacation spots, our summers were dedicated to family. I didn’t mind. For me, nothing could be better than grandmama’s house, curling up in granddaddy’s lap, and hearing his stories.

We were spoiled on local pickles, french fries, and Southern-style barbecue. We dug our toes into the sands of Topsail Beach, went shopping, and stayed up late watching movies. And every year, about this time, I realize it all would not have happened if he hadn’t made it back home alive.

Ernest Whitman is not ashamed of his service; he wears it proudly. He doesn’t hide his stories. Ask him about anything, and he will tell you. Not every veteran came home so freely…especially from Vietnam. Nor were they welcomed as they should have been. But in my family, he is and always will be a hero. To many of those who served with him as well as to the new soldiers fighting in his regiment, he is a hero too. We are proud of him.

Today is not just another day out of work. It’s not a great day for shopping or grilling or beaching it. First, show some respect for the men and women who gave their lives to ensure those freedoms for you. Then, throw an extra hot dog on the grill and enjoy it.

You are blessed beyond measure to be an American and to be free.