Some members of our church visit a local retirement home monthly and conduct a short service which consists of a hymn sing and devotional talk. I have played the piano for the group for many years and have come to know the residents in this facility. Several of them are also familiar to me as patients whom I have seen during home care visits or in the hospital. All of them have lost the ability to live on their own. Tonight we sang a selection of Easter hymns which spoke of the promise of heaven and the resurrection of our physical bodies as they are released from suffering on earth.
But I don't meet many people who are really looking forward to leaving this life. Most fight strongly to stay. Old age creeps up and then pounces, catching people unaware.
People hide their struggles to cope, put up a good front and resist asking for the help they need. Most of us want to remain independent, all of us fear being abandoned. We long to feel needed, loved and useful, and if we aren't, depression may follow. When things fall apart, buried dysfunction from our past is exposed for all to see.
Babies and children need many years of total care as they grow to independence;-the elderly may need many years of care as they return to complete dependence. I see the cycle every day. Baby boomers are beginning to enter this stage of life and are trickling into our geriatric programs. Are they going to change aging in the way they changed the society of their youth?
Anvil Cloud wrote an interesting post this weekend about the human body's potential to live in good health for 120 or more years. He wondered whether a longer lifespan would be a good or bad thing. One thing I do know, the baby boomers are too late to jump on the longevity train.
It is better to improve the quality of life than to extend the length of life. Our elderly do not need a condo in the sun and an annual cruise to improve their lives.They must feel needed, loved and useful, to be part of a social unit where they are valued. And our fragmented North American society does not guarantee that for our elders as families are smaller, busier and geographically separated. A youth centred culture is not always quick to value the contribution of older generations nor offer them a place of honour in the world. There are other cultures who handle aging far better than we do.
I find myself thinking about this circle of life, observing, but not having many answers.
Photos: The lady was making several silk scarves for her grand-daughter's wedding attendants
A very young visitor at the hospital was checking out our therapy equipment