I work for a parachurch organization called Youth for Christ. Recently, several co-workers and I had an enlightening conversation during a work break. One lady shared a series of stories about her 88-year-old father-in-law who is now living in her guest room and his odd behavior of showering at 2:00 a.m. Another man talked about his in-laws, who struggled to sell their home in Michigan to move closer to their daughter whom they expected to be their caregiver. This same man suggested that instead of being "Youth" for Christ that we were becoming "Senior Care" for Christ.
In 2006, the Baby-boomer generation turned 60 and began a wave of retirement such as the U.S. has never experienced. Some 78 million boomers will retire over the next decade, representing 25 percent of the population of the country. My co-worker was probably on to something when he suggested changing the focus group to seniors.
As I write this article, my father just completed a nine-week stay in the hospital. He went to the operating room four times and spent six weeks in intensive care. He had fallen when a ladder collapsed under him and fractured the C7 and T9 vertebrae in his neck and back. Now he is in an intensive rehabilitation center learning to move as much as he can. Whether he will be fully mobile is yet to be determined, and he still faces weeks or months in rehab. Nothing prepares you for this kind of emotional roller-coaster ride.
My mom currently faces the 40-minute one-way drive back and forth every day to visit my dad. She has been the one to consult with the doctors and make tough decisions on my dad’s behalf. She is the one who will have to sort out bills from multiple doctors and institutions, and pray that the insurance satisfies the massive costs. She is the one who will have to make arrangements for the house to be remodeled to become handicap-friendly. It helps that she is a nurse, but that is of little consequence, because she cannot lift or move my father with her aging body.
I say that nothing prepares you for the difficulties of aging and all of the medical maladies that follow, but some 3,000 years ago King Solomon wrote these words of wisdom:
Remember your Creator
while you are young,
before the days of trouble come
and the years when you say,
"I find no pleasure in them."
When you get old,
the light from the sun, moon, and stars will grow dark
the rain clouds will never seem to go away.
At that time your arms will shake
and your legs will become weak.
Your teeth will fall out so you cannot chew,
and your eyes will not see clearly.
Your ears will be deaf to the noise in the streets,
and you will barely hear the millstone grinding grain.
You’ll wake up when a bird starts singing,
but you will barely hear singing.
You will fear high places
and will be afraid to go for a walk.
Your hair will become white like the flowers on an
You will limp along like a grasshopper when you walk.
Your appetite will be gone.
Then you will go to your everlasting home,
and people will go to your funeral.
Soon your life will snap like a silver chain
or break like a golden bowl.
You will be like a broken pitcher at a spring,
or a broken wheel at a well.
You will turn back into the dust of the earth again,
but your spirit will return to God who gave it.
Everything is useless!
The Teacher says that everything is useless
"The days of trouble" have certainly come upon my father. The imagery that Solomon uses to show the effect of age on our physical frame is a reminder that the golden years might not be so golden after all. It might not be a carefree life of golf and long walks on the beach with your sweetheart. It might instead be time spent in a doctor’s waiting room and standing in line at the pharmacy more than time on the greens or dipping your foot in the ocean. Growing old and weak is not an easy journey.
It is difficult to be a spectator and limited caregiver in this hard journey. I am noticing that even more painful than being bedside with my dad is the deeper pain of noticing his absence when I go home.
I live less than a football throw from my parent’s back door. The Williams homestead is 40 acres, made up of my home, my parent’s home, my older brother’s home, and a surrounding apple orchard. My father is retired, but up until now, he had been quite active. I am accustomed to seeing him go about his routines; back and forth to the mailbox, across the road to feed his cats, riding his lawn mower twice a week through the summer months, and often showing up at my house (suspiciously around meal times). He was always available to pick up grandkids and happy to have you come into his living room to share a movie. This has been missing for more than two months now, and it has created a hole; the Williams homestead is not the same.
I realize that as my parents cared for me through the helpless stages of infancy and toddlerhood, that my turn has come to help them as they are aging and growing more helpless, but there is more to it than food, clothing and shelter. Life is about relationships at all stages, from the joy experienced at the day of birth until grief on the day of death. I am realizing that the mere presence of my father, even in the mundane things, is a priceless value that won’t be replaced when he is gone. Having a loved one who is close by and always on standby to share a meal, a movie, or a simple conversation is the substance of life that the relational God extends to his created children.
God, who exists eternally as Father, Son and Spirit, enjoys perfect relationship within himself and it pleases him greatly when his human children get along in peaceful, loving community. God has created us for relationship, and in the fullness of his plan he intends for you and me to experience whole, eternal relationships that will be liberated from loss and separation.
Growing old is one of the great challenges of this life, and death is the enemy because it separates us, if only temporarily, from our loved ones. But relationship is a divine quality that is experienced in this life and in the life to come. I believe that relationships represent the one precious treasure that we take with us from this life to the next.
Pain, tears and death are part of this human journey, but so are relationships. The journey I have shared thus far with my dad has been rich. I do not know how many days, week, or months we have left for this life, but the hope of eternity rests deeply in both of our hearts.