Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Circle of Life

Do not cast me away when I am old;
do not forsake me when my strength is gone.
Psalm 71:9

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


  1. Wonderful post...except the part about baby boomers...trickling into our geriatric programs. You're talkin' 'bout our generation there dear, watch what you say!!

  2. In Greece we don't have many retirement homes. We prefer to keep our old people at home with us. Even if they can't help themselvies. We feel that it's a tribute to them to help them and give them love at the end of their lives.

  3. Same thing here in Niger as Antigoni just wrote. I can't think of a better way to retire than the spend the easy-going days in the midst of your family. And I can only imagine what it means to the elderly that you guys come and bring music every so often. Thank you for doing that!!

  4. Hi Ruth,

    On Sunday, we drove past the Salvation Army resthome. I remembered more than twenty years ago, when my oldest daughter was a baby, and I was a stay home mum, I used to visit this 90 year old church member who couldn't come to church anymore. She had her own room, so we spent most of the time talking, and reading the Bible to her.

    I go through the common room and there were all these ladies saying hi to us. What I felt a little sad about these ladies in the home. They hunger for human touch. They loved my baby.

  5. Very thought provoking. I always find it ironic that one enters life defenseless and in need of care and many leave there earth the same exact way.

  6. Like you, it makes me sad to see their contributions and lives not honored more. And, it really is all about quality of life as we age. How special it is that you all make the effort to enrich their lives.

  7. In my twenty years of working with the elderly, I've found that some of their happiest moments are when they are allowed to do something for someone else.

  8. Many years ago, when I was a young teenager our church use to go to the local nursing home once a month. The residents would come to the common area and we would sing songs for them. We would do a song or two with actions so that they could join in. After that we would go to bedsides for those that are were unable to leave their beds. I remember this lady, Lily. Everytime we walked in the room her face lite up. She always wanted to hold my hand as we sang her favorite song...The Old Rugged Cross. She would sing along as much as she could and as we sang the tears would flow down her cheeks. I never knew if she was crying because the song touch her or if it was special attention she was getting from us. All I know it made me feel good (even as a teenager) to bring a smile to her face.

  9. It's scary when you talk of becoming dependent again, but I guess most do to some extent. I hope I can remain as independent as my parents did though and for as long as they did.

  10. Ruth,

    I enjoyed the photos. Mom made us all silk scarves a few years ago. They are lovely and this lady must feel honored to be making these for the wedding.

    We do not recognize the wisdom and usefulness of our elderly. Elder abuse is something that is not uncommon. It saddens me that we no longer respect our seniors.

    I read Anvil Clouds post and agree that quality of life surpasses longevity. Thanks for sharing.


  11. Thought provoking.Sometimes I don't know where I fit in,not yet old,but heading there.Definitly not as young as I wish I were.Oh wel,I will enjoy each day God gives me.

  12. I honor you for being involved with senior communities.
    "Suffering on earth" is a choice I will not make. I do choose to ask for help when needed, build honest friendships with all ages, and love and value myself.
    Too much emphasis placed on death, it will come.
    I believe the boomers way of aging has and will continue to change.
    Yet life is a circle, with a daily change in diameter, as there is only the Now.

    Great post Ruth

  13. The sad thing is when someone has to leave their home to live in a facility where so many of their personal choices are taken away.If people are given the opportunity to continue to make decisions for themselves it helps.It's too bad as a scoiety we don't bring our parents back into our homes to live with us as they age.I think that practice used to be a lot more common years ago.-Interesting post Ruth.

  14. Nobody's happy with a good answer these days, but everyone seems enthralled and invigorated by a good set of questions. That's part of the secret of the great circle.

  15. Mexico Mom11:38 pm GMT-4

    Right on, Ruth and applies across country and culture lines

  16. Thanks for the comments. Many people do not go through years of decline as they age because they experience a sudden death. But with medical "advances", even flu shots, people are living longer with chronic illnesses. Best to be aware of both possibilities. I work with the people who have declined slowly so my perspective is somewhat skewed. Antigoni and Esther live in cultures that embrace the elderly...how fortunate those people are.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.