Third Sunday of Advent
Readings: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126 or Luke 1:46b-55; I Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28
“The Spirit of the Lord God . . . comfort[s] all who mourn . . . faithfully give[s] them their recompense . . . The Lord has done great things for them.” Isaiah 61:1-3, Psalm 126:3
Five years ago as my beloved grandmother approached her dying transition she told me that she felt as if she was being punished. This observation had a lot to do with her unhappiness about living her last years in a nursing home, about grieving the loss of more and more physical abilities, and about her isolation from loved ones. She further said that she couldn’t understand why she was being punished because “all I have done is gotten old. And that is not a crime.”
As I’ve watched how our culture treats elders, I am wont to wonder if, in our culture, it is a crime. We segregate elders into institutionalized settings with rigid rules and authority figures who tell them how to spend their time. Sounds like prisons, no, nursing homes. We make all major and many minor decisions for them, just like prisoners. We lose patience with their increasing inability to keep pace, understand, and navigate our frenetic world. So, we marginalize their involvement in our lives. We withdraw our social favor by ignoring them because they and their frailties make us feel uncomfortable and burdened.
I read an outstanding book recently that addresses all these issues and puts elder treatment into poignant perspective: Being Mortal_by Dr. Atul Gawande. The author teaches the history of assisted living and end-of-life medical decision making in the context of what his own family experienced during his father’s decline and death. My main takeaway from the book was that what we, the children of aging parents, want for our parents — that would be safety — is in direct conflict with what they want for themselves: independence. This tug-of-war for control reminded me a lot of what occurs between toddlers and their parents. It is no wonder inter-generational meltdowns abound.
Pondering this strife-filled conundrum, I am reminded of how elders were treated in the novel The Giver by Lois Lowry. They were given the suggested “choice” of voluntary euthanasia. It was unclear how many made this choice under societal duress and how many welcomed it as a solution to the misery their long and debilitated lives had devolved into.
Into this situation comes the above quoted verse from Isaiah. Do the aged feel comforted and recompensed? My personal experience as an elder caregiver is that there is less grace and more “rage against the dying of the light (D. Thomas, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”). Sometimes it seems as if “the greatest thing” the Lord does for them is to end their suffering when they die. It is miles above my understanding to see clearly into the life of this exchange, but I want to hope that it is true.
As we live longer, we face more challenges. I would recommend Dr. Gawande’s book to anyone who is ministering to aging family members or, not even that specifically, to anyone who needs compassion when dealing with the decisions and choices of others. It is a beautiful love story to his father but it also offers the hope of the Isaiah passage (aptly labeled the Exaltation of the Afflicted). In the end, at the end, we all need each other.
Come, Lord Jesus, Come.
Offered by Jill Fredrickson, compassionate nurturer, business woman, child of God.