Selfish or Selfless: Caring for the Elderly

You know them and just maybe you think of them once in a while. They are alive, or one of them still is. They raised you until you were weaned, helped develop your character, encouraged, and supported you, until you left the house. Or just maybe they didn’t; they were heartless, life sucking, and you have or had no relationship with them.

They are your parents.

They are people you once knew, looking up to them, leaning on them, or disregarding them. And when you matured, they matured; aging slowly, until you realized now they are classified as “old.” You worried about their care, as year after year revealed their ailing bodies could no longer do what they once could. So you contemplate their future care, as though they didn’t have a choice in the matter. You took control and weighed the outcomes in your mind; either inviting them into your home, caring for them in their home, or putting them in a facility.

After working through your own desires, you uprooted them, placing them in a nursing facility, exclaiming that this is their “new apartment,” and told them this is where they will live from now on. Or maybe they ended up there from an injury and could no longer be deemed safe at home. No matter, you no longer needed to worry about their everyday care. You handed them over to strangers, and encourage them to stay in a strange environment, even though they cry to go home.

You visit often and are heavily involved in their life, or you visit a couple times and feel guilty when you don’t, because it’s less about spending time with them, and more about finding time for them. Or perhaps you keep them at arms length, because you can’t bring yourself to go visit them, you are too emotionally overwhelmed by their transformation. Somewhere along the way, they became someone you no longer knew.

Over the years, you have considered them a nuisance or a burden to your selfish lifestyle; a quality you never thought you would possess. Or  perhaps you don’t see them that way at all.

I get it. We, you, I, live busy lives, working, running the kids around from school to activities, volunteering, meeting with people, and engaging with life in and out of the home. We are trying our best to stay afloat or aiming to keep up with Jones’s culture. We cram in task after task to get more done, squeezing our elderly family members into our already busy schedules. But, in the long run friends, our busyness is meaningless, but we don’t yet recognize it.

Many of us have great pleas for reasons why we don’t engage with the older generation. Over the last few years, these are the three excuses I’ve heard the most.

“But I visit once a week.” Great! Now I challenge you to double or triple the time that you spend with them. If you spend 30 minutes, build up to 1-2 hours a visit. I ask that you realize they won’t be on this earth forever, and when they are gone, you will wish you spent more time with them. Guilt grieving is not the way you want to remember your parent.

“But I feel uncomfortable when they start crying and ask to go home.” Think of them as a young scared child. Hug them and tell them it’s going to be all right, and let them cling on to you. Your touch lets them know you care and that you are there for them. Just that simple act is calming, even though they are sobbing on your shoulder, your comfort cleanses them of their anxiety, worry, and fear.

“They don’t even know it’s a holiday, what’s the point of going?” Oh but they do my friend. They are put in a place where staff celebrates holidays, they are reminded repeatedly, days before by putting up decorations and the day of that specific holiday. Let me reassure you that by being there, shows you care.

Who am I to say such things? I am a granddaughter, who visits her grandmother in a nursing facility. I was caring for my grandmother, until she fell and broke a hip; a day after celebrating my mother’s life. And to be honest, putting my whole life on hold for 3 1/2 years was getting too much for me. I wanted freedom to join the human race without getting a sitter for my 100-year old grandmother. I wanted to not feel depressed and burnt out from my 120 hour work week. It takes a lot to care for another person 24/7. And she got all of me. I was up when she was up, whether it be 2:30am or 6:30am, it didn’t matter, she needed me, her trusted granddaughter and friend.

In the nursing facility where my grandmother resides, I have been told by other residents why they too have been left there. And though, we free to roam family members, might think it’s the best place for their safety and loneliness, I want you to keep in mind how you anticipate life at that age. I want you to put yourself in their shoes for a moment. I know you are telling yourself that you’ll never get to that point or you hope you’ll die before things get to that point, but hypothetically take this journey with me, please.

Your loved one placed you in a nursing facility, because remaining home was no longer safe for you. You enter a strange place with strange people and your anxiety heightens. You are told you will live there, but every fiber in your being is fighting to win your case; this is not home.

Many elderly are being left lonely in nursing facilities. They starve for love and comfort from family and are deprived of it. We my friends, are the solution to their depression and loneliness. Seeing, hearing, and valuing the aging population is the cure. Be intentional to share your love even if you don’t want to. And when they cry out, because they will, lean in and hug them, as mentioned above, hold them like a child. Hold their hand, because they crave your touch. Tell them you love them, and try developing a selfless self.

I’ll leave you with this wisdom from Pastor John Piper, who is speaking on caring for aging parents. It ultimately comes down to this, as you will hear in the message from Pastor Piper, “Are we servants or are we selfish?”

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