I used to say I want to live until I’m 100. I’ve amended that. I want to live until I’m 100 in my right mind with all my physical functions working like they’re supposed to and the ability to live independently. But that’s probably not very likely, is it?
Since my mother-in-law moved to be near us three and a half years ago, I’ve had a front row seat observing her weather the indignities of aging. Loss of physical stability led to falling, leading to the inability to live alone for safety concerns. Forgetfulness gave way to confusion, loss of reasoning and logical thinking. Further physical deterioration led to use of a walker, then a wheelchair, loss of privacy as someone was needed to help with baths and then with bathrooms functions, til now even sitting up straight or finishing a meal is beyond her ability. A friend who is a doctor whose mother passed away last year said that once they start declining, it seems to go faster and faster, and we’ve found that to be true so far.
Yesterday as I left the assisted living place where my mother-in-law stays, I was overwhelmingly sad, both from her deterioration, and the lady who cries all the time and the one who is constantly trying to escape and the one who wanders from room to room. Jason made the observation that at her old place, everyone was at Grandma’s level or better, but at this place everyone is at her level or worse.
I can’t help wondering why God leaves some of His dear children here in such a state. I believe God is the author of life. I believe He has a purpose for every life at every level and ability. One thing the elderly can teach us is compassion and caring. Another is to remind us of our own mortality. One pastor said that one reason God allows our bodies to decline with age is to loosen our grasp of them. My friend Esther Talbert says in A Psalm For Old Age about caring for her mother-in-law with Alzheimer’s:
There is a reason God leaves the elderly and infirm among us, and it is often not for their benefit but for ours. If we are not too busy and self-absorbed, we may learn the qualities of Christ that we lack and that He desires to mold in us, the transformation of character He intends to accomplish in us, by confronting us with their presence and needs. By the time something like Alzheimer’s strikes, God is about done with His earthly work in someone like Mom. “Why, then, does He leave someone to linger like that?” we wonder. His earthly work in Mom is done, but much of His earthly work in us and others, through Mom, is just beginning. He strengthens us daily to love and care for her. In the gentle rebuke of His mercy, He is molding and changing us—revealing our selfishness, unfolding His fifth commandment in new ways. Only as I myself am moldable will God’s power, in my turn, shine through me to “this generation and . . . to every one that is to come.”
In the mean time we trust in Psalm 71:18 and other promises for her: “Now also when I am old and greyheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come.” And we seek His grace to “comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men” (I Thessalonians 5:14b).
I recently heard of one’s last years being called the winter of life. I’ve never liked winter. I don’t like the cold, the loss of color, the lack of growing things, the lack of sunshine.
There are some things to like about winter. Cozy blankets, hearty soups, occasional snow, coming in from the cold. But the one thing that makes winter tolerable is knowing that spring is coming.
Someday Mom’s eternal spring will come, when she’ll be without pain, more fully in her right mind than she’s ever been, rejoicing with those loved ones who have gone before and with the Savior she has loved for decades.
Gone they tell me is youth,
Gone is the strength of my life,
Nothing remains but decline,
Nothing but age and decay.
Not so, I’m God’s little child,
Only beginning to live;
Coming the years of my prime,
Coming the strength of my life;
Coming the vision of God,
Coming my bloom and my power.
~ William Newton Clarke