by The Rev. Julie Carter Schaaf, Chaplain, Foothills Presbyterian Community, Easley, SC
A tourist, tramping around in the villages of New England, came upon an old woman sitting in silence on the front porch of her cabin. The tourist asked, “Lived here all your life?” She replied, “Not yet!” That is the spirit of the older person who lives every day with joy and expectation.
As the Chaplain in a retirement community for over fourteen years, I think this story embodies our hopes for ourselves and our loved ones as we age. And those who care for seniors are called to make it our goal to help nurture a lifestyle for our residents so that they too will live each day with joy and expectation. We can do this by trying to help our senior adults live as independently as they can for as long as they can.
As a minister, I believe that God has a purpose for us every day of our lives to bear fruit for God, for our community and for our world. One way to do that is to continue to offer quality physical, emotional and spiritual care for our loved ones because we understand that this truth is a reminder that every stage in life offers opportunities for growth. No matter our age, we can look forward to a broader and wider world where the soul can find much joy and new discoveries can be made.
I have also found that one of the greatest ways to help our seniors continue to live joyfully is by letting them know that they still have value. Of course this can be done in obvious ways – through visits, cards, calls, church or community newsletters and any other way that you can stay connected to those who aren’t as mobile as they used to be.
Yet, I have found that one of the greatest gifts we give our folks is to help them understand that they are still needed. Personally, I am reminded almost every day that someone who has lived 70, 80 or 90 years has a lot to offer and much to teach me about life. In taking time to listen to them reminisce, both of us are gifted. In sharing prayer concerns about the world, our community or the needs in our own families and faith communities, we all are blessed. I would encourage you to remind those who want to help nurture our seniors that there are many ways to help them bear fruit in “old age”. As children created in God’s image, our vitality and service to others does not have a cut off date because we reach a certain age.
I also find that the gratitude of God’s older children is contagious! Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, but older adults do not. They seem to understand that gestures like these have the potential to turn a life around. They are quick to share these gifts with me, with our staff members, with visitors and among themselves. And these are the gifts that you can bring to them as well. In reality, our residents are the ones who have helped me understand the importance of bearing this kind of fruit and of receiving it.
One of my favorite moments involves a resident at my facility that loves to walk but has some beginning stages of dementia and her family is not sure that it is safe for her to walk unattended any more. There is also another resident with late stage Alzheimer’s who likes to be mobile. Frequently, I will see our “walker” pushing the wheelchair of her neighbor, accompanied by a staff member. Both residents are experiencing joy and still bearing fruit.
God calls us to bear fruit with the gifts God has given us at every age. In sharing them, we can truly experience God’s kingdom in ways that glorify God and bring joy to each other.