Once An Adult, Twice A Child: Honoring Our Seniors

Once An Adult, Twice A Child: Honoring Our Seniors By Rev. Stephen Holley
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In a correspondence that began 14 years before their same-day <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />July 4, 1826 passing, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both commented on the aging process that would ultimately bring these revolutionary mortals to their end. 
Said Jefferson in 1814, “…our machines have now been running for 70 or 80 years and we must expect that, worn as they are, here a pivot, there a wheel, now a pinion, next a spring will be giving way, and however we may tinker with them for a while, all will at length surcease in motion.” 
John Adams, in his response to Jefferson expressed his own personal concerns with the process that closes the curtain of life:  “I am sometimes afraid that my ‘machine’ will not surcease motion soon enough; for I dread nothing so much as ‘dying at the top.”
While these two Goliaths of Independence continued their exchange of letters for a dozen years beyond this brief glimpse of personal trepidation, they clearly expressed the anxiety that occurs for those who have entered that golden stage of life where looking back is far more exciting than looking ahead.
Probably the hardest thing that I have had to witness is the progressive mental deterioration of my 80 year old father who, for the past 6 years, has suffered with Alzheimers.  It has been a painful experience to see this once vibrant individual withdraw into the diminished world of daily survival. 
Gone are the self-sacrifical activities of helping others and ministering to their needs.  Gone are the deep conversations and opportunities to hear his wisdom that was forged in a strong faith in God that helped him in surviving the Great Depression, World War II, and Communism and the Cold War.
Everything in his “hard drive” has been shaken from its appropriate of storage.  His mind is like the pieces of a jig-saw puzzle scattered on a card table crying out for someone, anyone to come and put the pieces back together.  It has been especially difficult for my mother.  She has borne a burden that I doubt she was prepared for.  At the age of 80, she not only has to care for herself, but she has to care for her husband, who has become like a child – having to be told when and where to go, when and what to wear and eat, when to take his medications, and when to go to bed – and she does this everyday.  Beyond her daily burden of caring for him is her unspoken fear that if she passes from this life ahead of him, she leaves a heavy responsibility to her children.  I have tried to reassure her that regardless of what the future holds, my sister and I are ready to assist beyond what we currently perform; but it still bothers her.
Admittedly, this situation is not as bad as it could be.  Some who suffer with Alzheimers can become difficult, angry, hard to appease, and so unpleasant in their interaction with others that close relatives and friends prefer to avoid the conflict.  Thus far, Dad is the same kind and gentle man that I have always known and loved.  But, we are not naïve to think that things could at some future point in time worsen.  The world of Alzheimers and its progressively diminishing intellectual darkness has no rules, no boundaries, and no limitations.  It can worsen almost instantaneously, and for no apparent reason.  Two years ago, an elderly man in California confused his accelerator for his brake pedal.  The horrible end result:  10 people who were enjoying a sunny day at a farmer’s market are now dead, their families having been plunged into the pit of grief; while one confused old man cannot completely understand the disastrous consequences brought on by his confusion.
When it comes to caring for my dad, we realize that we can bring small bursts of joy to brighten his day.  We can gather his grandchildren around him and watch as his life becomes more animated while they are with him.  We can participate in simple conversations – asking him questions to which we already know the answers; and eagerly responding to the repetitive questions that he has asked of us, often within the same conversation.
I guess I need to keep in mind that God is using this trial to teach me to trust Him…lean on Him…and allow my faith to be proven and tested as the “enduring faith” talked about in the first chapter of the Epistle of James.  As that is being accomplished in my life, I can also do for my father what he did for his family for over 50 years – and that’s “just love ‘em be there!”  Perhaps my presence will encourage him, calm him, and bring some small measure of sense of order to his persistent confusion.  God knows – he deserves it.  He never let me down when I depended on him.  So…now it’s my turn. 
I guess my prayer in all of this is that as I minister and tend to the needs of my parents, and especially my father, that God would be glorified, that I would learn in a deeper way the joy in serving those who are suffering, and that my children will see and model what I show them.  Someday, I will enter that stage of life that Adams and Jefferson feared.  Someday, I may need strong arms to lean on.  Truthfully, like Adams, I too have some fear of ‘dying at the top;’ but, as the hymn writer so eloquently wrote “whatever my lot, he has taught me to say it is well…it is well with my soul.”

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