Growing old is not something anyone talks about much. If a person is “old” (as in beyond retirement and no longer completely independent), aging is a difficult subject to discuss because there is so little decision-making control left in life. Once the pre-arranged funeral is filed, finances are in order, medical directives are in place, what do you plan? What incentives exist that encourage learning, thinking, dialogue, exploration, or sometimes even getting up in the morning? When the momentum shifts from moving forward to looking backward, what do you do with that? It is difficult.
If a person is “young” (as in pre-retirement or retired but living independently), there seems to be something a little unnatural about discussing future weakness, frailty, dependence, discouragement, loss of motivation, etc. While momentum is still propelling the young forward, why stop and contemplate the coming shift that changes everything?
In Adult Bible Fellowship group this morning, the lesson included this quote by John Piper: “We will all die, if Jesus postpones His return. Not to think about what it will be like to leave this life and meet God is folly. (Ecc. 7:2; Ps. 90:12)” He is right. Somehow by not talking about death, we don’t deal with it. Yet, by not talking about it, we don’t ever become at ease with the topic. Considering it is one universal life experience that every living human being may face, the general silence on the topic could be called deafening. But how do we talk about it? Who brings it up? What should be said?
My 89-year old in-laws, “Willie and Millie” as they are affectionately called by their senior living center neighbors, spent the evening at our home tonight. They have lived near us for almost 2 years now. I have been learning much from being around them, and I am still processing a lot of what I am learning. Such a godly, loving, serving couple who will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary in May! But aging is a struggle, and the forward momentum they once enjoyed is not there. We don’t have much conversation about this. Dad’s favorite remark is, “Well, I don’t want to be this age again!” To which we reply, “Don’t worry Dad, you won’t be.” And he chuckles. It is the unspoken understanding that Mom and Dad will most likely live here until God takes them home to Glory. Medical directives and finances are in place. There is no more planning to be done. They are in relatively good health. So, we talk about the weather. We talk about the next meal. We talk about the mail and phone calls. We talk about needing milk in the fridge. We listen to Dad tell stories he has loved to tell for a while. And we love being with them. But we do not talk about the future. That is OK. But I wonder if I will do the same thing if I live to old age. Will I talk about it? Or will I prefer to remain silent as well?
Billy Graham, in his book Nearing Home, states that the “biggest surprise of my life has been finding myself growing old.” Today’s elder generation are experiencing life expectancies far beyond their ancestors. So no one before them prepared them to live into the realm of 80 years, 90 years, even 100 years. But I have the opportunity now to learn from this aging generation, observing how they live, love, laugh and cry, and hopefully I will learn not only how to grow old gracefully but also how to discuss and even embrace the truth that this life is not all there is – that the last enemy, Death, may come knocking at my door – but when that door opens I will be ushered into an Eternity with God that is far beyond imagination! I hope I learn to be comfortable with aging, with death, and most of all, with the prospect of eternity. I want to learn from those who go before me, that “great cloud of witnesses” that will lead the way for me. I hope you all will share with me what God teaches you in this realm, so we can learn how to make this journey into aging together and finish well!