Growing old is not for the faint of heart. In developed countries, like America and many European nations, people are living longer. Aging brings with it burdens of unanswered questions, unexpected injuries, and debilitating illness. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, families are responsible for providing 80% of the long-term care for their aging relatives. In the United States, about 45 million individuals are currently caring for an aging family member. Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle contends 70% of people over age 65 and older will need some form of long-term care.
“Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God.”
1 Timothy 5:3-4 (NIV)
Family caregivers jump in to help as their loved ones encounter a myriad of ailments such as the following:
The above list doesn’t include unexpected things like falls resulting in fractures or injuries affecting knees, hips, and other body parts. Hip fractures can lead to serious complications, including death. Ankle injuries occur frequently and take a long time to heal. Any of these incidents can catapult a family member into a caregiver role to help nurture a beloved family member in need of care. In some cases, this may involve short-term care. In other instances, longer care is required, disrupting the norms and routines of daily life for all involved. Aging gracefully is a complicated endeavor wrought with dynamic complexities, financial concerns, and familial stress.
Many seniors find themselves in the financial crux of not being rich or poor enough. On the one hand, less than 10 percent of families can afford insurance policies that cover the costs associated with long-term care. On the other hand, many people must rely on Medicare because they are not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid. Unlike Medicaid, Medicare does not cover most long-term care expenses and only pays for some of the costs associated with short-term care.
As the number of Baby-Boomers growing old continues to increase, more families will find themselves tasked with taking care of an aging parent or relative. Some family members may find that it is necessary to put their life on hold while they look after their loved one parent, grandparent, or aging sibling.
Reuniting under one roof after years of independent living is fraught with challenges as well. Grandma’s house may be a fun place to visit, but it may not be ideal for making home for extended family. In the same token, saying goodbye to the place they call home is difficult and can be heartbreaking for elderly people not ready to give up their independence.
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” James 1:27 (ESV)
Many of us put off contemplating our own mortality for as long as possible. Unless your name is Samantha Stevens, you are going to grow old and face dying. Aging gracefully takes gumption and a good deal of financial planning. Dying ain’t cheap.
So what can we do to ensure that our loved ones have the opportunity to age gracefully?
For starters, get the conversation started early. From experience, we’ve found that these conversations vary from person to person, just like the situations and conditions vary as well. Plan ahead, discuss options, fill out important paperwork like HIPAA, a DNR, and Living Wills. Work through the challenges you run into as prayerfully as possible. Recognize that if you are a believer caring for an elder parent that is a non-believer that you do not share the same viewpoint on the “Golden Years”. A believer’s approach to dying will vary tremendously from that of a non-believer due to opposing attitudes, beliefs, and values.
Remember: You may be the only Bible they read.
Biblically, the answer for believers is clear. Our first ministry is to our family. They comprise the sheep nearest to us and we are responsible for tending to them, particularly in times of difficulty. If we don’t shepherd our loved ones, who will? That’s why having a church family is so important. The church comes alongside members who are caring for their loved ones. They may bring food, stop by for a visit, send a card, or take time to call. Sometimes, they offer a helping hand or lend a listening ear. Caring for those we love is a concept rooted in biblical teachings. Each generation helps the other generation.
When we do this, I believe we reflect the love of our Heavenly Father, which is always the right thing to do regardless of the era or age we live in.
“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” Exodus 20:12 (ESV)
Family Caregiver Alliance (2017) https://www.caregiver.org/
CBS Sunday Morning (2014) Aging in America: Stuck In the Middle. CBS News. CBSNews.com https://www.cbsnews.com/news/aging-in-america-stuck-in-the-middle/