He turned to me and said, ‘And don’t talk to me again with your mask on.’ Then he shuffled off with his walker. We had just shared a fifteen minute conversation. I had heard how his wife was ailing and unable to do much more than sleep. She had had a bad fall and then contracted Covid 19 and although this was several months later, he was worried she was loosing ground. I had prayed with him, for which he was grateful, then he finished our talk abruptly.
Not being able to hear words spoken through a mask, is just the last straw for many elderly, who have seen their lives turned upside down in the pandemic. Loneliness, confusion, gradual loss of sight and hearing; these are just a few of the difficulties they face. Loss of mobility, fear of falling, memory loss and the slow onset of dementia or equally difficult, their spouse’s.
The physical challenges the elderly face slowly force them into an internally lived world. A world shared with themselves. The TV News constantly talks of a world so different from the one they grew up in and spent the best years of their life with. It seems like their value system has no value anymore.
It has gone or it is going. Everywhere they turn or they turn to do, has left or is leaving, has died or is dying. Possibly the hardest challenge for many is holding on to a purpose for living, a purpose for their lives, now.
Well, it has always been that way, one might argue. That is true, except for three areas which may have exasperated this purposelessness the elderly increasingly endure.
Less and less people are being cared for by their own family members as they age, in fact their children are likely to live busy lives of their own, a plane trip away. No direct family connections leads to loneliness and isolation.
People are living much longer, due to medical advances, so living into your nineties or even hundreds, is becoming the norm.
But for me, the most significant difference I see, is many elderly are living without a close relationship with God in their lives.
The church past and present have contributed to this by: in the past, by teaching a theology of a distant judging Father God who expected works for one’s salvation; and in the present, by focusing on discipling the young, who would be more effective at reaching the lost, for more years.
Consequently, the kinds of questions and assurances, that a loving close relationship with Jesus Christ would answer and provide are left as an empty wound, mixed in with the all the other challenges aging brings.
God has led me to work in an elderly community as a Chaplain and I would not have had any awareness of this dynamic and quite frankly any interest either. We have a tendency to expect the state to look after the latter years of peoples lives with ‘meals on wheels’, or other programs. Some families are still able to help an aging relative but as a whole our society has moved away from an extended family life styles.
There is a real need for the spiritual lives of the elderly to be attended to. I am learning on the job and thank God for that opportunity.
We wish you all a very Happy Easter and look forward to hearing how we can best pray for you!
May God bless you and hold you in His favor,
Christine and Michael Hales