November 18, 2018
Scripture: Psalm 71:1-9, 17-19
Today we are taking a moment to look at how some in our society are treated when they enter into the latter years of their lives. Looking at it from as many perspectives as possible for indeed there are certainly many different ways that elderly people are cared for across our society and across the world. However, it seems that it is within the most developed countries and particularly within our own that there are such stark differences in the ways elderly people are either cared for and reverenced or set aside and left pretty much on their own and all alone.
And it is this latter tendency, to place older folks off to one side in some sort of a care facility that seems to have become more prevalent and more pronounced across certain sectors of our population within the past four or five decades. And as I said, it is only so pronounced within certain groupings of our population whereas others seem to still very much value and care for their own elders.
Now it is important to point out that I am not talking about those who in fact choose to live on their own and are able to do so, but rather about those who are placed in care facilities either unwillingly or in some cases unknowingly by those charged with their care, or in some cases, by legal authorities when their financial situation or a lack of involved family dictate the action. I am also not trying to indicate that such nursing home or other care facilities are never the answer, but rather I am seeking to have us focus on the continued involvement of family or friends after a loved one is so placed.
And more specifically our Third Sunday Communion table today is intended to fix our attention on those who are placed in such facilities, those who are removed from a family care situation for some reason or other, and who then find themselves left alone for all intents and purposes. It is these, these lonely and abandoned that my heart goes out to, it is these who too frequently end up no longer valued as important or contributing members to our society, it is these, the aged and very much alone who deserve a voice today. And it is my hope that our hearts will be quickened towards caring and reaching out to any of these whose paths cross our own, or whose paths we come across when we seek to serve those in our community who are alone and who are lonely.
This is truly a sensitive subject, for there are times to be sure when placing a loved one in a care facility is the only option for the family, as well as times when one is so placed because they do not have or are not in relationship whatsoever with any family members…leaving them all on their own without any other recourse. And we also should note that elder loneliness is not confined just to those who are placed in facilities. For in truth, someone who has been left all alone in their home beyond the point of being able to care for themselves is just as troubling and just as much in need of being addressed by those of us called to care and to love.
It is also worthy of note that this topic of how we are to care for our elders and the problems that arise from no longer valuing them is not specifically covered anywhere in our bible. It is not found within scripture per se except for the usual references to the fifth commandment calling for believers to ‘honor their father and mother’. And I think the lack of more specific instructions on how we are to do this ‘honoring of our elders’ is partly because it was inconceivable that anyone would in fact fail to value those who had lived into their latter years.
Indeed, those of Jesus’ day, both his followers as well as those who over the next several centuries wrote down the gospel narratives, never could have imagined a time when it would have to be said that one should care for their elders in a loving and caring way all the way up to the point of their departure from this earth….for it was just assumed that they would do so.
And to be sure, there are many cultures who do still reverence and care for those who are older within their society. In fact, such behavior is still the norm within certain ethnic groups within our own country. There are many within our own culture who still see those who are older and perhaps beyond the age of being able to work as being of value to the life of the family, either through the wisdom and experience they are able to bring to bear within family life and dynamics, or by their being available to assist with mentoring and the raising of children. It is still possible to find those who deeply revere their elders and depend on their input to round out daily life and living. However, it is also true that over the last several decades within certain sectors, and perhaps certain economic standings of American society there has been more of a move away from valuing the input of the seniors within our culture after they have reached a certain age.
And perhaps this may be due in part to the decline of the extended family model of social living and the subsequent rise of the nuclear family model, where younger members of the family leave home after marriage and start off all on their own, raising a family and frequently physically distancing themselves to some degree from their own parents or grandparents. This intentional division or realignment of family structure can result in the care of elders being pushed away from the family’s immediate focus or care. And that can cause individuals who are aged to become deeply isolated as they face the latter years of their lives.
And it is important to note once again that some in fact choose on their own to enter into assisted living or nursing home situations while others may be forced into a situation where they are then cared for by others who are not family. In either case however the point here is not to judge whether or not someone is separated from the family’s care for good reason or not, but rather to acknowledge that for us to do nothing when someone is forced to spend the later stages of their lives all alone without substantive and loving contact from family or friends is out of step with our calling as Christians to love and to serve one another.
And I guess this idea of being aged and all alone came into clearer focus for me over the past month or so when we as a church were asked to consider the life and struggles of one of our own members who, by her own choice has long lived all alone, but of late has had medical issues that forced her into nursing home facilities. And it was there that she felt the need to reach out and to ask for visitors to come by to see her.
Not one who had close or even communicative family members, this one felt the need to email many within the church and to ask for people to come and visit. She was lonely and afraid due to recent medical diagnoses she had received and just wanted someone, anyone to come and see her. And many in fact did do just that, going over to visit and praying with her. And then as her condition worsened and she was again hospitalized another call came forth, this time from a friend of hers asking for visitors again as her condition had become much more dire.
And again, many went out to see her and to pray with her even though by then she had been placed on Hospice Care and was not visibly communicative due to the regimen of pain medicine she was on. But there were a number of folks who went to see her before she was called to her final home with God early last week.
And then…then there were the plans for the funeral, for all of her friends to have an opportunity to remember her and to put some sense of closure on this significant loss to her community of friends. And in the end, many turned out on a bitterly cold morning and many shared as well how much they were blessed by the presence of this one woman in their lives and in the life of their community. And somewhere this one who was so alone, this one who felt the need to personally call out for friendship and companionship did so, as did her friends who echoed the call when she was no longer able to ask for herself.
And I guess I bring her up because in the end, her friends in her community and her family in the church stepped up and did the right thing. However somewhere it bothers me a little bit that she even needed to ask, or that one of her friends had to ask once again when she was nearing the end of her time here on earth. But this case to some extent did reveal the love of God in our words and in our actions.
But there are so many more who still sit all alone, so many more who hardly ever see a friendly face other than the staff who care for their daily needs except perhaps during the holidays when groups of well-meaning souls take the time to go and sing a carol or bring some sense of holiday cheer.
And some of these have family and some others do not. And some of these have family who visit fairly regularly and others seldom receive a visit of any sort. And so many just sit there, spending the final days or years of their lives feeling so alone, so abandoned except by the ones who are paid to care for them and put them in their wheelchair each day. And somewhere it seems as though that truly is an abandonment of our duty as followers of the one who gave his life that we might learn how to love every one another.
May we be moved to greater compassion for these who so deserve our respect and honor regardless of how we think they might contribute or not to our own lives, regardless of how we may feel that they might in fact complicate our lives or our routines…
…let us be bothered to care for these most lonely, most vulnerable…
…most in need of the love of God that can only be given through our words, our touch, and our actions.