Womb to Tomb // Dignity of the Elderly and Dying

Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength is spent

Psalms 71:9

I’ve always felt like a fish out of water. My inmost me knows I would be most happy to live on a working farm. But unless someone invites us to live on their farm, that part of happy will not happen. Time has slipped past the day when my husband and I could reasonably set up and live the farm dream.

One aspect of an agricultural lifestyle I appreciate best is how there is always a place for grandparents on a farm. As they grow in years they are recognized for their true value: wisdom that comes from living a full life. Family and friends do not comment, “Oh, that’s just old Grandpa talking. Don’t pay attention to him. This is the way things are now.” They understand the value of learning from our elders and want them near. And if Grandma has strength to do nothing more than shell peas, her efforts are recognized as contribution. Every member of family is valuable, and family remains part of the land they’ve tended and that has fed them.

In June 2013, just weeks after my parents’ 64th Wedding Anniversary, my father died unexpectedly after a short illness. My mother valiantly tried to live alone for the first time in her 83 years. It was painful to watch her put on a happy face, smiling through sad eyes. One day she couldn’t open a jar and burst into tears when the reality of her helpmate being permanently gone choked her. I was sad to be able to do little for her once I returned home after Dad’s death.

Ed and I really wanted her to move in with us. But the 2,000 mile expanse between Kansas City and her lifelong friends and relatives was too daunting for her to imagine. Four months after Dad left us, her heart began to, literally, break. She experienced congestive heart failure for the first time and the need for a heart valve replacement was suddenly immediate. Her body recovered well from surgery but not her spirit; depression overwhelmed her. Though she never specified reasons, who couldn’t know that the deep sadness of losing her husband was compounded by the prospect of leaving the hospital to live alone or, worse, move into a care facility?

Mommy was a giver and a forgiver and a woman of strong faith. But she still lacked self-confidence. The need was great for daily contact with the people who loved and knew her well. Two years earlier, my parents had moved 600 miles from our family home of 57 years and the church that was family for over 50 of those years. No one in her new town could share their home with her. Now she was more lonely than ever. On December 31st ,she gave up and joined Daddy.

Of course there are situations when it would be, literally, dangerous for grandma or grandpa to live at home. But our society’s norm is now to send away the elderly from their home with the family they raised, whether or not it’s dangerous. I’m convinced that is not God’s perfect plan and my hearts breaks. I am a fish out of water. 

To Jesus through Mary-Cheryl Ann Wills