The heaviness of grief presses down with a terrible weight. I have lost all my family members - first my parents, then Paul, Russell, James and Mark (brothers). As the oldest sibling, why am I the one remaining? Why has the Lord allowed me to live, the old maid, with no husband or children?
I face a future dependent on others; even my personal hygiene will be left to a caregiver. I am being stripped of pride, vanity and independence. Far from home, friends and church, my nightmare will come true. I will soon fade into obscurity, a statistics of a life lived.
From the book "Birthcry" by Shirley Roland Ferguson
Hannah Mitchell (1907 - 2000) was a remarkable woman and I will tell you more about her in another blog - but I felt that this quote sums up the aged of today. We are now living longer than ever before, however our quality of life in the twilight years is not always satisfactory. Last week I wrote about the importances of a dignified death (Link), how can we do this when we can't even manage to treat our elderly in a dignified manner.
One hundred years ago we lived approximately to our mid 50's or 60's. In fact the aged pension in Australia was set at 60 because most people would either never access it, or would only require it for a few short years. Now our life expectancy is in the low 80's. Sadly for many who reach this milestone find themselves in nursing homes suffering from diseases such as dementia (which is what Hannah Mitchell suffered in the last years of her life). Or they are like my mother, suffering poor physical health but ok in her mind. Nursing homes are depressing places and in fact many who end up in nursing homes suffer from depression and anxiety. Mental health is not just an issue for the young, it also affects the elderly.
It might surprise you that the highest rate of suicide (per 100,000 people) is in fact the elderly. For men aged 85 years and over, the rate is 37.6 per 100,000 people (compared to 25.4 for those aged 45-54). It is important to note, that this is still a very small number of people (56 men) as the number who reach 85 years or more is diminishing. However, 56 men in Australia in their late 80's felt their life was no longer worth living. That is so sad.
Once upon a time families use to take care of their own, it wasn't unusual for find three generations living under the same roof. Nursings homes weren't an option. However, for many elderly folk, they became a burden to the family and many women who were left to care for their mother or father (or in-laws) became quite bitter about this arrangement. We must not glorify the past when it wasn't always good. For many years we have neglected our elderly. We just don't value our elderly as they do in some cultures such as in Japan and China. In fact, it isn't new at all. In 1 Timothy (5:8) we can see that it happened in biblical times too. Christians were behaving worse then none believers and neglecting those within their own household. We must not ignore our own families and let them suffer. We do have a responsibility.
But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel. (1 Timothy 5:8)
Placing a parent into a nursing home is sometimes the only option - for example if they require 24 hour nursing care, it just means you need to take extra effort to make sure their lives are worth living.
You do need to choose a nursing home wisely - some are far worse than others.
They need to know they are not "fading into obscurity".
They need to know that they are valued, loved and wanted. They need to be told this often.
They need to know they are not a burden to society.
They need to be involved in conversations about their living arrangements and not talk about as if they weren't there.
They need to know that their wisdom (accumulated over decades) is still valued.
They need to know that others are praying for them and that they haven't been forgotten.
My dad visits my mum every day and the one thing he has noticed is the number of residents who never have visitors, not even at Christmas, Mothers Day or Fathers Day. These are people who do have family who I can only assume are "just too busy" to care. So the next time you walk through a nursing home, stop to chat to those who rarely get visitors, smile, offer a compliment. It will make their day.
Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. (Leo Buscalglia)
As I said in my post about death, the elderly do deserve to leave this earth in a dignified manner, they do deserve our respect and our love, our kindness and they do deserve to feel wanted and not alone. No elderly person should ever feel unloved and alone. You wouldn't neglect a child, why neglect someone frail and old.
I will end with a quote from Hannah Mitchell (Hannah's last entry in her journal):
Even though I am moving into the shadows of my long life, I have the assurance that my Heavenly Father will be with me. Even when I can no longer pray or acknowledge Him, He will he there. At the age of eighty-three, I know that I am closer to going to my heavenly home now than ever before. I know that when I sleep for the last time, the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself will awaken me to a new world untouched by human hand. . . I am ready Lord, Thy will be done.