I have a dear friend (I’ll call her Betty), who has become like a mother to me. This dear elderly lady sometimes struggles simply to do the regular activities of daily living. My heart goes out to her as I see the effects of aging on her body and mind. I know that there are many like her in our neighborhoods, and today I want to turn your attention to the elderly ladies and widows in your community. My hope is that, as you read about the needs of these very special ladies, someone will come to mind that you could befriend or help.
What do these elderly friends need? What is life like for someone like Betty? There are three unique challenges that I want to make you aware of: Isolation, loss of independence, and failing health. While I’m sure there are many other issues, and each individual is unique, I believe these are the most common. I hope to give you a good understanding of each of these, and then we’ll talk about how we can help.
Elderly ladies who can’t drive spend a lot of time alone. They are alone when they wake up, and they are alone when they go to sleep. They eat three meals alone. They spend the morning, afternoon, evening, and night alone. I don’t know about you, but when I am alone with my thoughts for too long, I begin to dwell on problems, and these ladies have lots of them. Financial concerns, health issues, worries about their children and grandchildren, and a host of other dark clouds hang over their heads, as they try to fight off the temptation toward despair. With no one to talk to and no place to go, loneliness takes a heavy toll on these precious saints.
Loss of Independence
This is a big one. Once they stop driving, our elderly friends lose a huge piece of their lives. They are completely dependent on others for transportation. If they want to go to church, the grocery store, a doctor appointment, or even just get out of the house for a while, they must arrange it in advance. It doesn’t take long before they begin to feel like a burden to their loved ones. This kind of guilt, even if it is self-imposed, compounds the loneliness they feel. Giving up driving is a significant turning point for them and it affects them deeply, like any other kind of loss. This is the reason many of them are so reluctant to hand over the keys in the first place.
Other kinds of independence are lost too, as the aging process goes on. Some are unable to bathe alone, or need extra help with housework. This can be humiliating as modesty and privacy must be given up for the sake of safety and hygiene. There can be a significant loss of personhood involved here. They become someone’s task, or a stop on a professional’s appointment list for the day. There may be three or more workers in and out of their home through the course of a day, and this can become emotionally and physically exhausting. Some must enter nursing facilities, where they may feel warehoused and forgotten. So, our elderly friends’ loss of independence amounts to much more than it might seem on the surface.
Most elderly ladies have some kind of health problem that they are dealing with. Many have painful conditions, like arthritis or neuropathy. As you might know, high blood pressure and heart disease are very common among the elderly, as are vision and hearing deficits, and varying degrees of dementia. The medications they have to take for these conditions produce a host of side effects, which lead to secondary yet equally troubling conditions. Sometimes, these friends are put on medications because of the side effects of other medications! They may end up taking so many pills every day, they can no longer remember to take them properly, and end up needing help with that too! These medical problems can produce all kinds of anxiety and fear, which often lead to depression.
I’ve laid out a lot of bad news here, but now it’s time for the good news: It does not have to be this way! This is where you and I come in. As we seek to minister to those in our church and our community, it is easy to forget these elderly ladies. After all, we don’t see them. Unless someone brings them to church, we may never meet them, or even know that they exist. You and I must actively seek out opportunities to serve these dear ones. Talk to your Women’s Ministry Leaders, or the Deacons in your church. Ask if they have a list of “shut-ins” (I really don’t like that term, but it is the most common one for this group), and begin to make contact.
When I first met Betty, she was in a rehab center, recovering from a knee replacement. Having had one of those myself, I figured we’d at least have one thing to talk about. I thought I would go and try to cheer her up and encourage her. Now, almost four years later, there is no doubt it is I who have received the cheer and encouragement.
Betty was married to a pastor for over half a century, raised five boys, and trusted in the Lord through many ups and downs in her lifetime. She is a wealth of both theological knowledge and experiential wisdom. She has a deep and abiding love for the Lord, and has been a great example to me as I have gone through my own trials over these last few years. My nest has emptied since I met her, and her encouragement and prayers have been a treasure as I’ve made that adjustment. The counseling ministry has also grown greatly since she began to pray specifically for that area of my life, and I know that many hearts have been changed as a result of her prayers.
When you befriend an elderly saint, both of your lives will be enriched. It is not just taking a meal or visiting a shut-in. It is sharing life with someone whose faith has grown over many decades, and will spill over onto your heart. Won’t you seek out one of these very special friendships today? I promise you will never regret the investment!