It is late on Saturday night. I just returned from a two-day visit with my aged mom (91 years old) and my brother and his family, in Huntsville, Alabama. I have made these trips more often over the past few years. It is increasingly evident that my mom is failing more and more with each visit, becoming quite frail, much less mobile and increasingly forgetful. Nothing you do in life prepares you precisely for these difficult days of caring for a very old parent. On one level it is a pure delight to care for my mom since she gave me life and nurtured me for eighteen years. And in some ways a parent never stops parenting you, even at this stage. But the roles have changed. Along with my brother and his wife, I am now helping make the basic decisions that relate to mom’s life and care just as she once did for me. It is a major role reversal that comes when a parent lives this long, and more and more people are living past 90. If you have older parents please, I urge you, begin to equip yourself for this phase of life.

William Blake once said that "In seed time, you should learn. In harvest time, you should teach. In winter time, you should enjoy." The problem with extremely old age is that winter has become quite bleak and dark as your health fails you day-to-day thus the enjoyment of winter is almost entirely gone. For most people living past 90 is not a great deal. I am certain that mom would much rather be with Christ, and with my dad, at this stage of her journey.

One thing I can say with increasing certainty about aging, and what does help the elderly live a better quality of life, was powerfully revealed a recent medical survey that involved a good number of people all over the age of 80. This study extended from 2000 to 2006. The most important factor in mental and emotional health, post-80, was human relationships. Those people who socialized and remained involved with other people were the one’s with the best health and the keenest minds, even if they had developed dementia. I am not surprised. God made us all so that we would remain as relational as possible so long as we are able. When we retreat to our small private world we simply decline faster. Make sure that you maintain many healthy human relationships if you want to preserve the health that God has given to you as you age. And try to keep your aging loved one involved with people as much and as long as possible.

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  1. Gene Redlin February 11, 2007 at 4:40 pm

    John, I am in precisely the same situation, 91 years and all.
    Quality and quantity of life.
    Full of years, what does that mean?
    I’m so full of answers on so many things but when it comes to this issue I’m not even sure of the questions.
    How, why, what, who, how??
    Thanks for a poignant post.
    Our friend Tim Campbell just finished this Journey.
    No matter how it ends it’s hard.
    Heaven is better than this.

  2. kevinJ February 12, 2007 at 7:37 am

    I am coming up to the same situation. My parents are 1,000 miles away. My dad just had a ministroke. My parents are in their mid seventies. I want to encourage them to be realtional to the end. Pray for them that they may know Jesus personally.

  3. Elizabeth K February 13, 2007 at 8:40 pm

    I’m leaving early Wednesday [Feb. 14] to help my sister with some things our 86 year old Mom cannot do anymore. I am more and more thankful my Mom has walked with the Lord her Lord 70 years+. But for us all–including my cousins–it isn’t easy to see our parents age. I take comfort in 2 Cor. 4:16-5:9 for them and for us.

  4. Jennifer LeFever October 20, 2007 at 10:43 pm

    Thank you for the poignant essay on a realy painful topic. My Mother, aged 79, underwent a radical resection of a rare tumor 8 weeks ago, and has had a gradually progressive decrease in her mental capacities that was very mild before surgery. Her doctors think the stress of the surgery accelerated a process that was progressing very slowly and don’t know if things will improve or stabilize. My Father has been in failing health for the past few years, and my Mother has handled all his meds, appointments, getting him to the hospital and so on. She is still functioning fairly well, but is clearly needing more help as her short term memory and word finding problems worsen. The family is dealing with two failing parents who don’t want to see the scope of the problem, deny the depression that is so obvious, or discuss the possibility of needing an assisted living situation in the near future. Some of my siblings are dealing with this issue on both sides of the family (our parents and their spouses parents) We do our best to keep them connected with friends and their church, make daily visits and phone contact, set up lists, make sure doctors visits are attended with another family member, and arrange as many family get togethers as possible. We pray together that we will find our way through this with sensitivity, love and grace. It is not an easy task, and one we all thought would not be here so soon. It helps to hear from others in this situation. Thank you.

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