Being elderly puts you into a unique position in life. Everyone is young at some point, but not everyone becomes elderly. When we are young we understand what it is like to be young. When we are middle aged we understand what it is like to be young, as well as middle aged. But when we are young, or when we are middle aged, we have no comprehension as to what it is like to be elderly. We only seem to be able to understand (speaking in general terms) what is behind us, not ahead of us.
When President Benson speaks about the elderly, the elderly sit up and pay attention, but the younger ears tend to tune him out as the subject matter doesn’t apply to them. But it does, and therein lays the problem. Just as parents have to teach their children how to respect each other, and the father has to teach the children how to properly respect and treat their mother, so too do parents have the obligation to teach their children how to treat those who are elderly.
If children are not exposed to the elderly from an early age, the comments you will hear from them are things like, “They smell funny.” “They are gross.” They need to be taught why grandma smells “funny,” and why grandpa’s teeth fall out, and so forth. Children don’t understand that these are superficial things that have nothing to do with the true worth that grandma and grandpa actually have. This is where the training comes in. Remember parents, the respect you teach your children to show your parents will be no more than the respect your children will show you when you are elderly.
The Value and Limitations of the Elderly
One of the greatest and most underestimated values of the elderly is their vast experience and breadth of perspective. They have lived, in many cases, two of the lifetimes of their younger counterparts. When you have a 40 year old leader getting counsel from an 80 year old, you have someone seeking guidance from a person who has literally seen the life experience of two of their own life. We often ignore this vast store of experience and relegate the elderly to the “worthless” bin.
Not everyone who gets old becomes so infirm they cannot function. Many of our elderly are still showing up to service projects into their late 80s. The Lord has called many of his leaders from among those who were 70+ years of age, because of their many years of proven service in the kingdom.
More of the elderly could go on missions, and they are encouraged to do so, if their health and finances permit it. Elderly missionaries fill special assignments in the mission field, and can often reach people the younger missionaries have difficulty relating to. Many times the elderly couples are sent to places where they are to fellowship people. Their many years of service have prepared them for such Christlike responsibilities, and they shine in this capacity as they pave the way for people to accept the gospel through their selfless service.
But what of their limitations? There are still many things they can do, even with limited mobility or limited health or finances. Sometimes this requires their leaders to prayerfully figure out ways to use their vast experience even though they don’t have the physical capacity they once had. This may require some uniquely tailored callings to make use of these faithful servants of the Lord.
Helping the Elderly
Every elderly member will have unique challenges to deal with. As we grow we gain in strength, agility, mental prowess, and physical power. Aging reverses this process, slowly stripping away one ability at a time. The order these things are taken from us is different for every person, but they are all reduced, or taken away to some degree. In the minds of each adult, they are still in their twenties. That is how we see ourselves. Imagine how frustrating and frightening it would be to see yourself starting to forget simple things, developing tremors in your body, having your joints hurt all the time or losing physical strength so that what once was taken for granted is now either difficult or impossible to do.
The process the Lord puts us through in aging is to strip away all that the world holds most dear, leaving us with only that which will endure, our personality and our beliefs. We are left, in the end, with only that which we can take into the eternities with us. That is a wonderful thing, but it doesn’t remove any of the frustration or fear from the process. It is important that those who are younger understand that this is what the elderly are experiencing. Remember that the pace at which they experience it is different for each person, but everyone goes through it.
This means that the home and visiting teachers need to be aware that the physical and sometimes mental condition of their assigned person or couple will not always remain the same. They may be mentally fit today, but three years from now one or both of them may need accommodations made for them to be able to still function. Many widows are proud and will not ask for help, so the home and visiting teachers will need to quietly be observant for signs of things that need repair or ways they can help. It is not uncommon for an elderly person to try to hide their declining abilities from others as long as they can.
I have a friend who has been assigned to home teach the elderly for many years. He says that the first thing he does (he has been a repairman all his life) is go into the widow’s kitchen to see how well her oven and fridge work. Often the widow is living off one burner only because the others have broken and she is not willing to tell anyone she needs help. So he checks these for her and fixes them.
Finally, we need to remember that the elderly are beloved of the Lord. He has always loved the widow (widower). They deserve our respect. Every life coming into this world needs to be cared for until they are strong enough to care for themselves. Every life that leaves this world needs to be cared for until the time for departure has arrived. We need to remember that it is the responsibility of all who are self sufficient and physically capable to care for those who are declining in health. The Lord expects us to care for those of his children who are in declining health every bit as much as he expects us to care for the children who are not yet able to care for themselves.
Caring for the elderly is not as easy as caring for infants or young children. They often require physically demanding tasks be performed. Those who act as care givers for the elderly often need attention from others in the way of emotional and physical support. Many times a simple release from the duties of caring for someone so they can go shopping or take a nap is a great blessing in their lives. There is much we can do to help. We just need to be creative and willing to do what is necessary.
Kelly likes to keep the gospel simple. For more of his articles and lesson helps go to his website, http://mormonbasics.com.