I read, the other day, “You know you’re getting older when all the names in your Little Black Book end with MD.”
This post is for our older readers … or younger readers who have older friends and family. (There now, that should cover all of us!)
A little old lady seated herself right behind the bus driver. Every ten minutes or so she’d pipe up, “Have we reached Oriskany Falls yet, Sonny?”
“No, lady, not yet. I’ll let you know,” he replied, time after time. The hours passed, and the old woman kept asking for Oriskany Falls. Finally the little town came into view. Sighing with relief, the driver slammed on the brakes, pulled over, and called out, “This is where you get out, lady.”
“Is this Oriskany Falls?”
“YES!” he bellowed. “Get out!”
“Oh, I’m going all the way to Albany, Sonny,” she explained sweetly. “It’s just that my daughter told me that when we got this far, I should take my blood pressure pill.” (1)
That bus driver probably needed to take one, too!
Now that I am past 50 (and I won’t tell you how far), I’m beginning to realize that there are times my responses wear a little thin with the younger generation. I’ve often thought, “Hey … have a little patience!”
But then I remember that there were times as a youngster that I wasn’t all that patient with my elders.
Patience is a virtue, and it’s also valuable if we’re going to keep up effective communication with the older generation. In our culture, which is basically selfish and focuses on instant gratification, we have forgotten how to wait for precious things. This is especially true in our responses toward the elderly.
We need to keep these thoughts in mind:
- Age and illness brings decline in physical abilities, and this can affect a person’s hearing. The hearing in my left ear is already affected. I keep asking my husband, “What did you say?” I have to turn the television up or it sounds muffled. So when you’re talking to an older person, speak clearly and perhaps just a tad slower. It helps to face the person, too, so they see your lips moving.
- Be patient if a person doesn’t recognize you right away. Vision distortion or loss may frustrate an elderly person, and there’s no need to make the person feel worse.
- It’s not just the eyes and ears; sometimes an older person’s voice gets weaker. If they never enunciated well in the first place, now their voice may be even harder to understand.
- Memory loss ~ especially short-term memory loss ~ is to be expected to some degree as our friends and family grow older. Again, be patient.
- Don’t expect an older person to have your energy level. The Psalmist acknowledged that strength would wane (Psalm 71:9) Not every older person is weak. Some people have stronger stamina (I’m thinking that my friend Pam Farrel will probably be vigorous until she’s 100!) But be patient when a person gets tired. Keep visits short, unless the person sincerely encourages you to stay longer.
Beyond these areas for patience, think of ways to be kind to the elderly. For example:
Think of practical ways to share “things” with them that they need (especially widows, James 1:27), taking care not to offend their need for as much independence as possible. (For a note of discernment: 1 Timothy 5:3-4; 5:16)
Include them in some of your events, even if you have to adjust activities a bit to help them participate.
Honor them ~ especially your “father and mother,” as the Bible says (Ephesians 6:2). Respect for elders pleases the Lord (Leviticus 19:32). Respect their values, even if you don’t agree with them. (see 1 Timothy 5:1a)
Allow them to share their thoughts and feelings, and the experiences of their lives. (This does not mean that you need to encourage any attitudes of bitterness, anger, etc. Help them see a biblical perspective, if possible.) Allow them to reminisce, and affirm their value as a person.
Learn from their wisdom and knowledge. There are rich rewards for those who wait patiently for older people to share what they have learned (Job 12:12). Ladies, older women can mentor you (Titus 2:3-5) in ways you might not imagine.
Give them freedom to grieve over losses ~ deaths of loved ones and friends, loss of independence, losses in health and financial status, etc. At the same time, encourage them with the truth of scripture. (Note: if the grieving turns to social withdrawal, deep depression, or other harmful emotions, help the older person seek counseling or medical advice, if it is appropriate for you to do so.)
Help them see how they can declare God’s power to “the next generation” (Psalm 71:18). Suggest ways they can still be involved in Kingdom work.
Can you think of other ways to show kindness and patience toward those who are older than you? Do all you can to keep these relationships and communication strong.
Remember … someday (if not already) you will be one of the “Old Folks,” too!