December 23, 2013

Slip Slidin' Away

As you age, you feel like you are fading into invisibility. I experience that feeling. I am starting to fade. My mother is even further down the aging path. She is in a nursing home.

She can't care for herself. Her conversations are no longer engaging.  None of the facility's caregivers have a shared history with her. She is easily overlooked by everyone who comes down the hall, except for her devoted husband. And yet, she has saving faith and God-given dignity.

Although the Bible is full of honor and respect language for the elderly, it is hard for most Christians to sustain an active interest in those who are inactive. Many older people are out of sight in long-term care facilities. I can understand why they are forgotten.

I live far away from my mother. I pray that other Christians will minister to her and that God will be near to her. I am reminded of Psalm 71:9,"Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent."  In case you have church members who are, like my mother, fading away, here are some ideas of what you can do.

1) Visit regularly. Even if the resident doesn't remember that you come to see her every week, it is a meaningful act. Her spouse and children appreciate the sacrifice.
2) Offer to bring others with you when you visit.  Older people may have older friends who are unable to drive.
3) Provide loving touch if the resident is open to it. Holding a hand, patting a shoulder, brushing the hair and rubbing on lotion are usually appreciated by someone who is touched only by those who need to get a task done. 
4) Get the wheelchair-bound resident out of the room. Imagine being an outdoorsy type who is confined to a chair in a small, overheated room with a blaring TV that you don't know how to turn off and a moaning roommate who you met yesterday. Take that woman outside, if you are allowed, or, at least, to the recreation room for a change of scenery.
5) Consider offering church services for the facility residents once a month. At the service, interact as much as possible with the older people. Use a microphone. Keep the service short. Sing the old hymns. Show love in abundance.
6) Find out the backstories of the nursing home residents from your church if you don't already know them. It is easier to love and identify with someone if you learn about her past. Do everything you can to see the older person as a human in the image of God instead of an invalid who can't contribute. Elderly people in your church probably have similar stories to my mom's.

In an effort to encourage the staff who care for my mother, I wrote a short bio that I sent to the nursing home with a note of thanks and a box of goodies. Here is part of what I said.

Who is Donna?
Donna was born without much fanfare. Her parents were fun-loving people, who eventually had nine children. When Donna was a child, her father died suddenly from an aneurysm. He left a widow to face the hardships of the Great Depression alone. The youngest child in the family was a baby at the time.

Because of her family's financial condition, Donna went to work as a domestic servant for a wealthy family in another town when she was a teenager. She had to take care of children and a large house while going to school. She graduated from a high school 15 miles from her home, not in a place with life-long friends.

Donna has always cared for the needs of others. As the young mother of a newborn, she stepped in to care for her teenaged sister-in-law and a widowed mother-in-law, who had a serious accident. Donna was a waitress, a short order cook, a motel maid, a Headstart assistant and a very devoted mom. She served God at her church. She sold crafts and chocolate candy to help make ends meet when her husband was repeatedly laid off from his job. You can still see a bit of the "former" Donna when she is concerned that everyone has something to eat.

She married over 60 years ago and has a faithful husband. Donna has one daughter, two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. They live in three different states around the country. 

Before she came to the nursing home, Donna endured various medical problems, such as hepatitis, miscarriages, diverticulitis and hearing loss. She kept a positive attitude. In spite of her forgetfulness, she still takes pride in her appearance. These are a few of her favorite things: a clean house, physical affection, sparkly rings, sitting outside, clothes that match, family, getting her hair done, flowers in the garden and the I Love Lucy show.

Donna is not perfect, but I have grown to love her very much. I hope you will, too.


  1. With a 91 year old grandmother in a nursing home, dying of Alzheimers, this especially hit home. I live far away from her, so I can't see her often, but when I'm there, I visit. My mother oversees her care and can visit several times during the week. AND---what a beautiful idea to write your mother's history for the nursing home staff!!! I will have to keep that in mind in the event that we have to eventually place one of our own parents in a home.

  2. Discovering the stories of the elderly women in my church has been one of the great joys of the past few years. Women who, to the casual observer, may seem fragile, are often revealed as the most resilient and godly--having lost much in the course of their lives and yet gained Christ, who can never be lost.


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