Ending the Nightmare before It Starts

Preface: I’ve been enjoying working with Lorna Dueck and her excellent team on the TV show “Context with Lorna Dueck.” For the last few months I’ve been blogging weekly on her site here. To encourage subscribers and other readers of this blog to subscribe to the one I write over there, I’ll post a few of those posts here for a while—and for faithful readers of both (God bless you) I’ll give a heads-up at the beginning of any blog posts here that have already been posted there. (I respect your time and attention.)

So then, let’s start with the first one I wrote for Lorna…one that got a lot of attention.

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What’s the absolute, number one, no-doubt-about-it worst fear each of us have about aging?

Pain? My late mother endured it for more than a decade as a cancer survivor. I never again want to witness such an ordeal.

Blindness or other loss of perception? To lose contact with the world, to lose the enjoyment of its rich pleasures, is a grim prospect indeed.

Bodily dysfunction? Embarrassment from incontinence, fear of tripping and falling, frustration over household tasks attempted with arthritic fingers…the list of ways in which our bodies can fail us is horribly long.

No, as Bette Davis wryly put it, “Old age ain’t no place for sissies.”

Poverty—which haunts far too many older Canadians—makes all of these challenges worse, of course, since money can buy us medicine and tools and helpers.

Yet as bad as all these are, the number one fear we all have about aging is something else: loneliness…and being alone.

Experts repeatedly affirm that old people thrive when they have strong friendships, when they enjoy a sense of community, when they begin the day with purpose.

These bland generalizations can be put more sharply: We all, old or young, thrive when someone cares about us and we care about them.

And we shrink when we have no one, and no one has us.

Recall those frightening studies of baby monkeys that had every physical need provided for, but failed to thrive for lack of a caring touch and a smiling face.

With an ever-larger and longer-lived population of seniors, we can’t possibly afford to pay for everyone to get the highest standard of medical care.

 But the good news amid this bad news is that the single worst thing about aging is the one thing we can all do something about. We can, each of us, provide the one thing that older people need more than they need anything else: caring attention.

A sustained relationship with an old person, of course, doesn’t fit easily into anyone’s life nowadays. Lots of us would rather pay higher taxes (or tithes) to have other people look after the elderly.

What the elderly need most, however, is us. Not our dollars.

Could we consider “adopting” a single old person or couple? Could we decide to visit them so regularly that they could count on it and look forward to it?

Could we know them well enough that when something is wrong in their care we could spot it and advocate for them?

Could we guarantee for at least these one or two people that they will never again have to spend a Christmas Day, or New Year’s Eve, or birthday alone?

Could we ask our kids to trade just one hockey or video game a week to get them out of themselves and into a distinctly different experience that will be far more demanding—and rewarding?

The one thing we most fear about aging is precisely the one thing we can fix.

Will we?

7 Responses to “Ending the Nightmare before It Starts”

  1. Dawit

    John I have been and just tried again to add the On Second Thought blog to my list of blogs that Feedly reports new blog posts to me. I get the blog at johnstackhouse.com fine and probably could get the Peoples blog but not specifically your posts. So basically I have given up reading your posts, with sorrow. I suspect that the problem has to do with the blog setup, possibly the name??? Dave in cold godless Oddawa

      • Dawit

        I have not used the RSS button for a long time. When I try it Feedly is not an application that I can find under the Choose Application option. Normally I use Feedly itself to create all my subscriptions and it just does not seem to work properly with your new blog.
        I also tried to signing up for “insider” email and maybe that will inform me when you have a new post. Dave

        • John

          I’ve sent your concern to the nice web people at “Context.” I’ll notify you here if I find out something useful. Thanks for alerting me to the issue.

          • John

            As you found, the subscription feature connects you with all the blogs, not just mine. They haven’t sorted them out separately yet. But the blogs from the others are (a) good and (b) infrequent, so subscribing shouldn’t be a problem…

  2. Frederick Harrison

    I know of an orphanage in China that paired itself with an old age home: both groups thrive from the interaction. The idea came from Chinese Christians and the government wasn’t quite certain how to react. They liked the results but not the beliefs of those who organized it.

    I had the privilege of a friendship with a number of seniors after my grandparents had passed away. It was quite enriching to hear of their life experience in dealing with two world wars and the depression. This was in the late 1960s and early 1970s before I went off to university. I learned the art of making a proper pot of tea and spent many a Saturday evening playing cribbage instead of getting drunk with my high school classmates in the local bars.

    The “adoption” process you recommend works both ways and churches are ideal places for seniors and youth/young adults to interact. Some challenges to be certain, but opportunities as well. Humility is required, especially since the assumption is that the other party is out of touch or needs to be taught something before meaningful interaction can happen.

  3. Keith Shields

    John, thanks for this blog. Two and a half years ago my wife and I chose downward mobility and moved into a plus 50 community. We were 53 at the time. We are the “teenagers” in this community since most people here are in their 70s, 80s, and 90s. It has been rewarding for us and helpful to this community of people who have become dear friends. One of my best friends is now a gentleman who is 96 years old. We engage in the community events and participate on the board of this condo community. We learn from the wisdom of those older than us and we can lend a hand when things get hard.

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