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.