Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: elderly

Nursing home blues

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The pandemic is winding down, businesses are reopening, yet normalcy is hidden by a mist of uncertainty. Some day we will know if the measures taken during the pandemic were the right ones. I don’t believe I am qualified to comment on that. All levels of government did what they thought was best, according to the information available to them. It is fair to say, though, that China and the WHO did not provide reliable information at the beginning.

I want to talk about one aspect of the pandemic. There was much fear-mongering at the beginning, with good intentions, to prepare people for a monumental health crisis. However, 80% of the deaths from COVID-19 have occurred in long-term care facilities.

We have known for years that there are risks when we take people whose health is not robust and place large numbers of them in one place. Influenza and Noro viruses spread like wildfire in such a setting. A little carelessness in food handling exposes many frail people to gastrointestinal upsets, sometimes fatal.

Why do we think it’s a good idea to expose them to such risks? Possibly because we don’t know what else to do with people who are no longer contributors to society. We have lost the respect we should have for elderly people. The best thing to do is put them in a place where professional staff can amuse them and care for them until the end of their days.

I know many of them have dementia. But evidence suggests that dementia develops more slowly when people feel they are doing something of benefit to others. Wouldn’t we all benefit if we could break down the walls of age segregation? Perhaps this pandemic has given many people time to ponder whether our pursuit of new and change is delivering the benefits we expected.

Every life lived has a story that can offer insights and encouragement to others. I’m not talking about nostalgia. That’s when the old folks get together and talk about how things were better in the good old days. Honestly, though, in many ways they were not better. But people have learned lessons from the difficulties they have faced, the mistakes they have made.

Getting back to my starting point about the way we care for the elderly, I don’t have any ideas about how we should change the institutions we now have. But I think social distancing is a horrible choice of words. We had far too much of that, already. Let’s do physical distancing as long as it’s needed. But lets build social connections between young and old and all strata of our society. I believe we will all benefit. Emotional and mental health are as important as physical health. People who are emotionally and mentally healthy are usually more physically healthy.

Is this the best way to spend your final years?

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Most of the people dying from COVID-19 are in nursing homes. Families, friends, pastors, priests, rabbis are not allowed to visit in those places. Many of the staff members that the residents have grown to know have contacted the disease and been replaced by strangers. Is this the way things are supposed to be?

Right now there is a single-minded focus on physical health. But the virus is not the only factor that impacts a person’s physical health. Don’t we understand that denying someone of emotional, mental and spiritual support undermines their physical health?

Yes there are risks in allowing visitors to those whose health is fragile. Aren’t the risks in denying such visits just as serious?

The problem is that we live in an era where things that can’t be measured and quantified are deemed to be non-existent. This is an inhumane world.

I am not suggesting that we defy rules put in place by government. But perhaps today’s circumstances should lead us to rethink how we care for the most vulnerable members of our society. When that care is delegated to large corporate entities or government agencies, it is inevitable that decisions about how to care for people will be made in offices far removed from those concerned, and those decisions will be made on the basis of what is most efficient.

How many of us look forward to spending our last years in an institution like that?

Change and decay in all around I see

“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” – C.S. Lewis

It surely does seem that God is shouting at us right now. But what is He saying? Is he telling us to repent? Most likely that is part of it for most of us. But I can’t tell you what you need to repent of, that is a matter between you and God, No one else knows exactly what your need is.

What should be clear to everybody by now is that we have been trusting the wrong things. Money, jobs, health care, our own plans, all seem shaky now, not at all so sure and solid as we thought. One thing, one person, remains unchanged.

For I am the LORD, I change not (Malachi 3:6)

Some trust in chariots, and some in horses:
but we will remember the name of the LORD our God. (Psalm 30:6)

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me (Psalm 23:4)

The following hymn, written by Henry F. Lyte almost 200 years ago, is known throughout the English-speaking world. If anyone is thinking of singing something meaningful to strengthen and comfort folks in nursing homes, this hymn should be at the top of your list.

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see—
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

I need Thy presence every passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Use this stuff

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Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

Wednesday morning when I went for blood tests, all the staff were wearing face shields and I was asked if I had travelled recently or had contact with someone infected with the Covid-19 virus. Are these just normal precautions or local evidence of a worldwide epidemic of unreasoning panic? So far here have been no deaths from this virus in Canada and not a single case identified in Saskatchewan.

To put this panic in perspective, in an average year 3,500 people die in Canada from the seasonal flu. The worldwide death toll from this new virus is still somewhat less than that. 80% of those infected with this virus will have very minor symptoms, or none at all. The death rate is between 3% and 4%, mostly elderly people with existing health problems. Children appear to be mostly unaffected.

The best preventive measures are to wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your face. Surgical masks are not really helpful and may be more of a danger than a help as they cause you to touch your face frequently to adjust the mask.

The hoary head and wisdom

Today I am 78 years old – it’s surprising how normal that feels. I knew old people when I was a little boy, they seemed like regular people, but I couldn’t imagine myself ever getting that old. Now here I am.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. It is the fear of the Lord that helps us understand that we are not the most important person in the room. One who lives selfishly all his life does not magically become wise in old age.

The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness (Proverbs 16:31). What is righteousness? Sometimes I am tempted to think that an ability to see what others are doing wrong means I am more righteous than they are. That is a deadly mistake.

Seeing the problem does more harm than good – unless I can also see what the other person is doing that is right. The Bible instructs us to build up one another, not tear down.

In my youth I determined I was not going to be like my father. No way was I going to make the kind of mistakes that he made. Looking back over my life, it is obvious that I made pretty much all the mistakes my father made, and more. What else could I do? That was the pattern I had, I didn’t know a better way to act when things didn’t work out like I wanted them to. It has taken a lifetime to find a better way, one small step at a time.

Along the way, I have gained a more charitable attitude towards my father, and towards other people who are not doing well at handling the trials of life. Perhaps the most important piece of wisdom that I have gained is the realization that I still have a lot to learn.

The problem of age

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I was sitting in the food court with my 95-year-old mother. A young oriental lady rushed up to us, on the verge of tears, and wanted to meet and hold the hand of this old lady. I was startled at first, but as the young lady talked it warmed my heart to see her love for old people. She was from Calgary, in Saskatoon for a Youth for Christ rally. She had a grandmother, but she lived far away in China. Mom was in the middle stages of dementia and didn’t fully grasp what was going on. That didn’t matter to this young lady, she just felt drawn to my elderly mother.

The Bible says: “Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:32); and “The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness” (Proverbs 16:31).

Do we North Americans have that kind of respect for elders? It’s pretty obvious that we don’t. What’s wrong with us that we don’t have that kind of feeling for old people? The reasons are many and complex and I don’t pretend that the thoughts I give here explain everything.

Something happened when one room schools were closed and children began to be segregated by age in large classrooms. As parents accepted the idea that this was good for children, our whole society began to organize itself in age specific groups.

Parents began to believe that children learned best how to behave from their peers, rather than their parents. This was not a conclusion that they came to based on evidence. It was propagated by psychologists and sociologists. If we dare to look at the evidence, indications are that this has not been a good thing, for children, for families, for society as a whole.

The next development was the creation of youth. Neither was this an accidental development, it was the result of psychologists and sociologists downplaying the experience and wisdom of parents and discouraging children from respecting those older than themselves, or from even wanting to grow up.

Mandatory retirement was meant to make room in the work force for younger people. People were encouraged to look forward to the day when they could leave behind the drudgery of work and spend their time and energy on travel and recreation. That is, pretend you are still young and try to do all the things now that you didn’t get to do when you really were young. But life can’t be fun and games all the time, and many retirees find themselves once again pigeonholed by their age. They no longer have much in common with their workplace friends, since they are now out of touch with the things they once had in common.

Finally then, we are left with the problem of what to do with old people when they no longer appear to have anything useful to contribute to society. Too often we warehouse them in seniors’ homes.

With all the good intentions in the world, I wonder if we haven’t created places that are breeding grounds for dementia. There are many causes for dementia, of course, but when we see people who remain active and alert well into old age, most often they are people who have maintained interest in other people, especially people who are not just like them. Frequent interaction with younger people and people whose trajectory in life has been different stimulates the mind and keeps it from settling into a rut.

Interaction between old people and children can be stimulating for both. And I’m not just talking about grandparents being babysitters, although most appreciate those opportunities. Elders should be encouraged to talk about their lives, the good times and the bad, to make it real to the younger generation.

Elders should have advice to give, but not in a scolding way, or in a hopelessly idealistic way. By the time we have reached the three score and ten mark we have made an awful lot of mistakes, and hopefully learned something from them. We may not want to talk about all of them. But if we can reach back in our memories and tell where we have made a bad choice and the consequences we have experienced, the lesson we try to teach will have a much greater chance of sticking in the minds of the young.

Cultural perspectives on youth and old age

Closely related to the North American orientation toward the future is the strong emphasis on youth. This can be seen in commercial advertising and entertainment — the old are rarely represented. At work the young are often thought to be more active and productive, and to hold more promise than do the elderly, despite their experience and sense of responsibility.

There are few attempts to involve the aged in the mainstream of the society. Once they retire, they are viewed as having little to contribute. And when they can no longer care for themselves, they are often placed in nursing homes, isolated from their offspring and cared for by non relatives.

This emphasis on youth is the exception rather than the rule around the world. In most societies old people are viewed positively as wise and experienced. They are shown respect, given places of honour and consulted about family and community decisions. There is no retirement from public life. In fact, retirement as we conceive of it now is a twentieth-century phenomenon found mainly in the west.

Paul G Hiebert, Anthropological Insights for Missionaries © 1985 by Baker Books.

The church is a faith community

Forty years ago the pastor of the church my wife and I were attending went to California for several weeks to take a course in church growth. He was really pumped when he got back and expounded to us how the key to growing our congregation was to target people in our community who had a natural affinity and tailor the culture and activities of the congregation to make those people feel comfortable. Somehow it never worked. That congregation has been defunct for a number of years.

We liked that pastor and his wife. He had some unique gifts and deep convictions. However, the desire to grow his small congregation led him to be quite flexible and ready to follow the latest wind of doctrine.

As it looks to me now, the fatal flaw in the church growth model he presented to that congregation was that the glue that was to hold the supposedly growing congregation together would have been something else than their common faith. A church that is held together by a common ethnic origin, or an affinity based on how they earn their livelihood, most likely their visiting among each other will naturally drift into those areas. That’s not necessarily wrong, But is it going to hold a church together over the long term?

All the clever research and marketing that goes into the church growth movement ignores what the church really is. It is a community of people who are drawn together by a common relationship to God the Father, through being washed in the blood of Jesus Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit. That is the basis of a genuine faith community. so much the better if we are of different ethnic origins and earn our livelihood in a wide variety of ways. The one thing we have in common is that we are sons and daughters of Almighty God. Why would we imagine that a vibrant church community could be established on some other plan?

Another thing that is happening is that churches are sliced into layers according to age and every slice seems to think it has all the resources for mutual edification and has no need of the others and the others have no need of them. Some churches even have different worship services for the young and the old and both groups think that is just fine. It isn’t. We all need each other.

Those of us who are old need to see things through the eyes of the young. Those who are young need to hear the wisdom of their elders. Surely we have some wisdom to offer — or have we just been drifting with the tide all these years?

Note that I said we should have some wisdom to offer. We will do more harm than good by attempting to impose our wisdom on others. But if we have a mutual love and respect that transcends ethnic, economic and age differences, (and shouldn’t that be fundamental to the church of our Lord Jesus Christ?) we will all have something to offer and something to learn.

If wishes were horses . . .

If wishes were horse, I would be in Edmonton with my wife instead of here at home looking after our three cats and trying to keep earning some money. But I supported my wife in leaving on this little one week adventure to help her elderly cousin and visit some of the people we know, so I will make the best of things here at home.

And I do get to do some interesting things. Tonight was the humorous speech competition at Toastmasters. I won, which means that I will need to deliver that speech in a few weeks at the district level. I wasn’t counting on that, but I guess I can do that, too.

If wishes were horses . . .  Some people seem to spend their whole life wishing things were different, wishing that other people would treat them better, wishing for better living conditions, wishing for all the fun and enjoyment that other people appear to be getting out of life, but which always seem beyond their grasp.

One of the people Chris wants to visit in Edmonton is Rose, the 90 year old widow of my cousin Ron. Rose never appears to waste time wishing things could be better. I don’t think she believes life could get any better. She is thankful for everything and everyone in her life. She is not really well-to-do, but she has all she needs and wants no more. She spends a lot of time on the phone talking with family and friends, and many of those friends go back a long time.

Ron and Rose had been married for almost 65 years when Ron passed away two years ago at the age of 91. The parting was difficult, yet welcome as Ron had so much pain in the last few years of his life. He never complained either, he was the favourite of the nurses in the home where he spent the last couple years of his life, as he was so thankful for every little thing they did.

What makes the difference? Ron and Rose were never difficult people, but they were not always as contented and happy as they were in the later years of their life. They were always church-going people, but they didn’t get converted until they were about 70. Knowing God, His forgiveness, His peace had a transforming power in their lives.

When our hopes are set on earthly things, we will always be disappointed. When we set our hopes on things that are heavenly and eternal,  we receive far beyond what we deserve or could ever wish for.

How did I get so old, so fast?

elderly_mancaneMy cousin Ted turned 76 today. No, that’s not Ted in the picture. It looks more like me, except that I can still stand up straight and I’m not nearly that skinny — yet. I’m working on it, but it’s coming pretty slow.

There was a day when I believed that anyone past thirty was over the hill. In the spring of 1971 I was the manager of a country grain elevator in Manitoba. A semi load of bagged fertilizer pulled in just after supper one day; I think the driver was about 20. We got to work and unloaded that trailer, then had a beer before he left. I remember him remarking that he would have to tell his friends that he had met this 29 year old guy and he still seemed young! I remember it like it was yesterday. After all, it was only… let me see now… it was only 43 years ago.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge in those years — I still have more hair than the guy in the picture, but it’s white now. So is my beard. And I don’t drink beer anymore. You can read my last post to find out why.

I’m still 3 1/2 years younger than Ted, but that doesn’t seem like much anymore. We’re both past the best before date of threescore years and ten mentioned by Moses.However, it took Moses until he was eighty to dsicover his calling in life, perhaps there is still work for us old folks to do in God’s kingdom. At any rate there are still things to learn, even at this age.

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