Some of the most precious times in my life have been spent with the elderly – baking cookies with my grandma, talking about literature and enunciating phrases like “How now brown cow” with my grandfather, and most recently, meeting new “grandparent figures” at my new home in southeast Texas.
Unfortunately, instead of revering their wisdom as is custom in many Asian countries, the American culture tends to try to forget about our parents and grandparents. We place our elderly in nursing homes as early as possible because we don’t have time to care for them ourselves. I’m not trying to put a guilt trip on anyone who may have a parent or a grandparent in a care facility; it just seems we give up hope on our elderly far too early.
Today I spent time with two of the most brilliant people in the world, and both of them are over 90. Buddy, at the age of 91, still works at a funeral home in Galveston. He has lived a full life. Though I don’t know much of his story, he immediately latched on to me this morning when I walked into church, causing me to feel some of the most genuine love of Christ I have known in a long time. He insisted that I sit next to him during the service, and even invited my boyfriend Drew and I and the pastor out for a nice lunch afterwards. Buddy’s stories sometimes aren’t completely clear due to his quiet voice and Louisiana accent, but his joyful and loving heart shines through his face and actions.
Winnie, at nearly 93, is about as feisty of a woman as they come. You don’t put anything past Miss Winnie, who was once a businesswoman at the top of her game in New York. Though today was only my second time to see Miss Winnie, I am impressed that both times I have seen her, she has been perfectly put together, wearing a suit and looking very chic for a woman in her nineties.
Drew has a special heart for Miss Winnie. While she may not be as quick as she once was, he is determined to keep her mind sharp as long as her body is here and encourages her to converse, read, and watch TV. Leaning forward intently in her chair, looking very crisp in her bright blue suit, Winnie expressed her concerns about her care facility. She worries that there aren’t enough people in her wing to help stimulate her mind. She’s like a rocket scientist forced to return to junior high.
I wish I could spend more time with the elderly. They cause me to slow down and view life in a timeline perspective, realizing that I will most likely be in similar shoes someday. Usually, when going to visit an elderly person, we “youngsters” enter with the mentality of, “I’m going to cheer them up and do a good deed.” But we are the ones who end up feeling uplifted. We give love, and we are given a love that has had time to brew over 80 or 90 years.
But sometimes they cannot return love. Alzheimer’s has paid its toll on my own family, finally taking my Grandma Goodier last year after she suffered with the disease for almost 10 years. The last time my sister Amy and I visited her, she could not remember our names, much less tell us she loved us. But that’s when we have the opportunity to love the helpless. In the incredible book Touch, Pastor Rudy Rasmus says, “Ultimately, our reward for loving people isn’t the positive response of those we love. It’s the smile of God on our lives.”
Sometimes we will receive a positive response when we reach out in love to the elderly or to anyone. Sometimes we won’t. But if our heart is to please our Father and to love with pure intentions, we can be sure that He is smiling over us.