“What do you fear most about growing old?” This was a question for breakout groups after a presentation on “Living with Purpose and Joy at Any Age.”
Among the most frequent answers to such a question are “losing my mind,” “not being able to do for myself,” “being a burden,” “running out of money,” “becoming frail and incompetent,” and “having to go to a nursing home.”
This response especially caught my attention: “I fear being taken care of by people who don’t love me.”
Being one of the elderly myself and having spent a lot of time in recent years among frail, infirm, and dependent people, I have an inkling from whence that fear arises. And, regrettably, the fear has legitimacy.
Care of the elderly has become a major commercial enterprise where efficiency, financial profitability, and getting past the next regulatory inspection are the operational priorities.
Most care facilities in the United States operate on a medical model in which people are treated for their physical and mental frailties. Residents (patients) are categorized by their symptoms and levels of incapacitation.
The frail elderly are treated as dependent recipients of medical care dispensed largely by over-worked, minimally trained, under paid, and seldom affirmed employees.
What if the paradigm for care of the elderly were shifted from dispensing medicine to sharing love and extending hospitality, countering the fear of “being cared for by people don’t love me”?
Such a shift would require honoring the dignity, worth, and uniqueness of each person as a beloved child of God, regardless of his/her capacities.
Being cared for by people who love me means:
- being present with and attentive to me
- knowing my likes and dislikes, my longings and regrets
- listening to my stories, even if I tell them over and over
- talking to me tenderly and sensitively
- treating me as a beloved member of the family
- letting me share my gifts as well as accept yours
- being excited to see me when we’ve be apart
- smiling as though you enjoy who I am
- advocating for me when I can’t speak for myself
- being patient with me when I can’t understand clearly or do quickly
- getting inside and understanding my world
- remembering that I was once younger like you and you one day will be old like me
- knowing that the best medicine you can give me is your love
While being cared for by people who love us may be especially urgent for the frail elderly, everyone of whatever age or station wants such treatment–children in schools, inmates in prisons, patients in hospitals, employees in businesses, students in universities, members in congregations, families in homes.
I suspect that our fear of growing old and frail would be greatly diminished if we knew that we would be cared for by people who love us. After all, “There is no fear in love for perfect love casts out fear” (1John 4:18).