Someone once said, “old age is not for sissies.”
It’s also not for the selfish.
All around me are people who are aging rapidly and sliding down the ramp that leads to the next part of our immortal existence. It’s a little scary to witness because all I see are things that are probable in my own future. And what really worries me is that some are fully aware of their declining abilities while many others are blissfully (or otherwise) making the trek without a full quiver of senses.
I don’t know which group is more blessed.
What I do know is that the ones (in both situations) who deal best with the changes are the ones who have spent their lives finding ways to step outside themselves. Their focus has never been on what they want – always and forever their desires have been to care for and support someone else (generally, but not always, a spouse or child).
This weekend my wife and I went to visit her parents. Both are in their 89th year and are suffering some of the ravages of age. Teresa’s mom has lost much of her thinking capacity and memory so it is hard for her to accept that she can’t be independent anymore. This is the same mom who raised 6 children and took care of a home while her husband worked long hours hauling coal hundreds of miles each day.
Now she is relegated to trying to remember why she can’t see her parents and constantly wondering who that strange man is in her house.
But the weird thing is that as we sit and chat with her, her first thoughts are about how she can make us more comfortable. And at each meal she worries that we haven’t had enough to eat so she wants to get up and fix more (which would be an interesting experience in its own right). Everything in her nature is about what she can do for someone besides herself even when her physical and mental abilities are VERY limited.
Not to be outdone, Teresa’s dad also has to take on a different role in the family. While he still works hard to keep money coming in, he also must take on the duties of cleaning and caring for the home. Additionally, there are Church responsibilities and livestock to feed and nurture. But the most difficult part may be watching this wonderful woman, his capable and willing companion whom he has trusted and loved for so many years, drift off to another world that does not (most days) include him. His life is filled with endless tedious responsibilities and conversations that would make any sane person want to scream. Yet, he steadily and faithfully fulfills the promises he made when he began this mortal journey – serve the sweet little girl (and she was a tiny thing when they wed) he loves and all else who come into his sphere of influence.
|Phyllis Gordon Grange|
All of which is done without a whimper or sound of regret.
And lest you think I am only seeing one instance of this great love, let me also mention that my own parents (slightly younger than Teresa’s but still falling into the ‘aged’ definition) have had sufficient reason to complain. But they have also followed a similar pattern in their lives. Both suffer from severe physical maladies but have consistently sacrificed for each other, their children, and many who live in their neighborhood. Their consistent attendance to the needs of the living and the dead (Temple work) has been a strong example to their children as they come along behind.
It is apparent to me, based on what I see in the elderly I know, that the best way to leave this life is to spend as much time as possible helping, serving, strengthening, guiding, or whatever else ‘ing’ verb you want to use. To sit and worry about self will only make the time slow down and the misery increase. I suppose that is what King Benjamin was advocating when he said:
And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God. (Mosiah 2:17)
I love old people (maybe because many think I am one) and the lessons they teach. Their experiences guide and show what happens when we do certain things.
It’s not that hard to be old – you just live.
It is hard to age gracefully and well. I realize I am late in learning this but I don’t think time is up yet.
Serving others makes life more enjoyable. And it helps age to pass more pleasantly. I know because I have good teachers.
Thanks to both moms and dads.