Life from the Backside of 60
There is a meme that was making its round on Facebook that went like this:
“In your 20’s you are annoyed that others talk about you.
In your 40’s you no longer care that others talk about you.
In your 60’s you realize no one was ever talking about you.”
It is a fact of life that as one moves through the decade of her 60’s life takes on a very different air. For some, symptoms of chronic diseases make life gradually more stressful and sedentary. The frequency of doctor appointments and the number of specialists one must consult increases. Eating out becomes less pleasurable as one’s diet becomes more bland and portion-controlled and one’s budget becomes more constrained. Physical activity becomes harder for many after 65 as arthritis or worn out joints or back pain or sciatic nerve pain become more frequent complaints.
Children are less a part of one’s life, especially if one started a family early, as they are now in the throes of raising teenagers and launching their own children into life. If they are financially and relationally stable, have managed to avoid drug abuse or other traumas of modern life, and are adulting successfully, you rarely hear from them. And even in that, you thank God and you leave them alone.
I don’t remember my grandparents ever visiting our home, unless it was for a rare wedding event or when my infant sister died, and even then, it was never for overnight. We always went to their home for holiday celebrations or family events or funerals, and only occasionally for an overnight visit. Life at their house always seemed so settled and steady. You knew what to expect there and visits were usually for the day, as we lived barely an hour away from the community where both paternal and maternal grandparents lived. There was always a well prepared meal and time spent catching up on one another’s lives. The TV was off and children played outside or sat and participated politely in the conversation.
My paternal grandfather died before I was born. My grandmother remarried and my step grandfather died when I was a young adult. She died at 64 from sudden cardiac arrest due to cardiovascular disease caused by diabetes. My maternal grandfather, likewise, died from stomach cancer at about age 70 when I was a young adult. His wife lived alone for years, enjoying the senior center activities and yard sales with her sisters until all of her siblings and she herself became homebound or moved into nursing homes. We heard little of their day to day lives except the reports of the latest health challenges. But we dutifully honored Mother’s Day, Christmas, birthdays, and other events and visited when it was convenient. I can recall my Mother spending time on the phone chatting with her Mother, maybe once a week, but never with her Father or my Dad’s Mother.
On a recent Sunday I visited an elderly friend in a retirement home. Her 93rd birthday was coming up Wednesday. She struggles to maneuver with a walker. Mostly she sits and reads or watches TV and interacts with the center’s staff as they minister to her daily. Her daughter visits once or twice a week. She no longer goes out unless it is to a doctor’s appointment. But her mood was cheerful as she recounted her most recent medical challenges. She spoke matter–of-factly of the time when she will no longer be here to celebrate birthdays. She shared stories of some of the sentimental pictures and other items in her lovely and well maintained small studio apartment. We talked about prayer and God’s ever-present comfort. I know with every visit, it may be our last. She is ready to go home and is just living out each day as well as she can until God calls her.
We are now grandparents settling into our mid-60’s. We see and hear little from children and grandchildren on a weekly or even monthly basis. Their lives are increasingly busy. Ours are winding down. With erratic sleep patterns, health nuisances and the responsibility of companion animals that keep us both entertained and tied to home, travel is almost non-existent, a day trip for a funeral being the most common. The gear and planning necessary to manage overnight trips make it difficult and uncomfortable for us and, we suspect, for those who have to accommodate us. So we mostly stay at home. And happily so. It is our sanctuary, our safe place. We intrude on no one here. No one questions what we choose to eat or watch or wear.
I have been active in ministry to women in recovery in recent years, but even that is smaller and less demanding now, as fewer and fewer women desiring recovery see an older woman’s demands and rules in a small communal home, under a Christian discipleship and mentoring model, as desirable. Obamacare has provided 28 days in professionally supervised medical model programs. Why would anyone choose six months or more in a demanding spiritual and psychoeducational residential program with someone who reminds you of a grandmother?
I am rethinking life. I am not ready to sit, watch the Hallmark Channel, crochet and wait for someone to call. I am called to serve the Lord. When I first felt his call, he said, “I will bring them to you,” and he has. It is a matter of trust to continue hoping that he will continue to bring them to me. In the meantime, as time allows, I feel myself being led to go…. to the elderly, the infirm, the imprisoned, the hurting. The ministry of presence and hearing hearts’ cries, even when they are silent or disguised in happy chatter, is still ministry for those who are growing old and find themselves increasingly alone.
Is it too much to hope that in doing so, I will find that when I am old, infirm, and alone, someone will do the same for me?