An old-fashioned letter arrived in our mail box; it included an introduction of the author and a polite request to attend our home fellowship. She informed us she lived on our street and thought it would be convenient to attend; she no longer drives. As it turned out we don't meet in our home, but we offered to take her with us each week. The following Friday as we backed the car out of the drive heading west on our street to pick up our neighbor, we noticed her quickly making her way up the sidewalk in our direction pushing her walking ahead of her. She seemed excited to be going with us.
For several months our elderly neighbor joined us on Friday nights, sharing the frustrations of living in a residential home. She wasn't happy. With some encouragement she found another residential home, and though she finds living in small quarters with strangers difficult this has proved to be a better situation. And she still lives close by so we can still pick her up on Friday nights when she is able to go to Bible study. She is enjoying our group; they opened their heart to her and take her concerns and difficulties seriously. It helps her to know we pray for her.
We soon found out our friend has no family living in the area. Her brother who lived a few hours away would come and visit on occasion, but now he is moving to another state. When she asked her brother what she was going to do when he is so far away, as her health is failing, he said, “You are smart, you will figure it out.” She has been weak and unable to come to Bible study for several weeks now. There is no senior ministry at her church. What happens to the elderly who are alone, in a strange house with strangers and losing strength, feeling vulnerable and stuck both mentally and physically? I ask myself this and similar questions several times a week.
I am bothered by all this. We live in a world where people are living longer leaving us with a much larger population of seniors. I am challenged to begin searching for resources and wondering if this is a forgotten group. Does anyone out there care about the elderly the way they did when I was growing up next door to my grandparents.
My grandma worked a full-time job and grandpa worked long hours farming. When my grandpa's mother had one stroke after another it became evident she was going to need someone to care for her. My grandparents took her in and she lived with them for a number of years. While grandma worked during the day, Gail Middleton, who was older than my great grandma, would come and take care of her. While she was living and active, my grandma visited the sick, regularly called shut-ins to check on them, and visited friends and family in the nursing home. She often would take my brother and I along. These were often odd and uncomfortable experiences, but they helped us to value the elderly—full of experience and knowledge—and to see their great need to be remembered. Years later my grandma cared for my grandpa until he passed away, and then her kids hired help and cared for her in her home until her death. I grew up in a family where the elderly were not forgotten and left to figure things out on their own.
When our elderly friend needs our help I often think about what my grandma would do; I feel I have such limited resources for helping her, but I am challenged to consider folks like her as the neighbor Jesus tells us to love as ourselves in Luke 10. Tony Merida writes in his book titled, Ordinary, “Therefore, I would define love something like this: Love involves compassion that leads to action. Jesus' compassion drove Him to wash His disciples feet, to serve others, to weep over the city of Jerusalem, and to die as a substitute for sinners. . . . Again, Jesus' life and death exemplifies such love . . . He loved His neighbors; He loved the least of these; and He loved His enemies. In Jesus, we know what love is; it's the ordinary expression of one neighbor to another.”
Merida writes in another chapter, “Christianity is personal, but it's not individualistic. It's corporate. . . . It is easy to get excited about a cause, but never actually [be] doing anything for a real person. . . . Whose needs are you meeting with deeds of mercy?”
So I am challenged to do what I can to show compassion to a woman, not related to me, but alone and in need of care. Though I do not always know what this looks like, it isn't always convenient and at times I am certain there must be more I can do. It keeps me on my toes and my “knees.” I am not a hero here, it is my call as a believer to attempt to live the way Jesus lived and this is just one way. Also, I am reminded one day I may be an elderly person and there are no promises of the condition I will be in or the circumstances in which I will live. Both my husband and I find ourselves in relationship with elders who are suffering, vulnerable and sometimes afraid. We pray, we visit, we pick up supplies and we give rides. The elderly are only one vulnerable group in our culture in need of deeds of mercy. We all need to ask ourselves, “Whose needs [am I] meeting with deeds of mercy?”
Do you find the elderly being cared for in your community? Who do you know who is caring for an aging parent or frail spouse in their own home? Can you lighten their load in any way? What have you found to be some of the greatest needs of the elderly you befriend? I want to say a big thanks to my maternal grandparents and to my mom for teaching to respect and value the older people who cross my path.