Last week at church, my friend (actually my old Sunday School teacher) enthusiastically came up to me right before I was about to sneak into service and having read my blog the night before she said, “You know what?? I have said it before but I would not want to live past 60! First of all, I do not want to be back in diapers and having someone feed me again. And then,” she paused, “I do not want to be a burden on anyone! Maybe you can address that in your blog.”
It’s sad to hear that old age is so horrible that you’d want to die right after hitting 60. In all honesty though, I think it is a legitimate comment. Do you want to be a burden on someone else? I think it’s easy for older adults to feel like a burden to their spouse, to their children, and even to feel like a burden on society. It’s sad, but true, and how do I know this? Well, when you become good friends with an elderly person, you start to see things the way they see things, understand the way they understand things, and feel the same feelings they feel as they age. In short, you get a perspective on where they’re coming from. When you live with someone, let me tell you, you get an even closer perspective.
Having lived literally in the room next door to my grandparents for 20+ years, I heard the shuffling of my grandparents going to the bathroom during the night, and with each year, that shuffling seemed a little slower, and a little more frequent, and a little more annoying, not for me, but for them (I could tell). I could hear them talk at night before sleeping and I vividly remember my grandpa saying that he wanted to die quite often. I knew it was true. He felt like a burden.
In this world, it seems like it’s what we do that adds to our worth. Once you age and lose your independence, you need the help of others and it’s often to help you do things you once could do on your own. It’s not easy to lose capability.
So, how can we prevent being a burden in our old age? The first thing to remember is that it doesn’t have to be that way.
And the second thing to remember is that it starts with us. When we use the word “burden”, it means that something is really of no value to us and not only that, it weighs and drags us down. That means when we think of older people as burdens on us or on society, it really means that we think they’re worthless. We drive away and get mad that old people are on the road and in doing so, we treat them as if they’re of no value (this topic for another day). When my grandparents feel like a burden on us and others, I came to realize it’s because we gave them that impression. My grandpa, before he passed away last year, was a pain in the neck during his last few months. He complained about his pain, he yelled at people and hit some people in process too. He was not pleasant, I tell you. But he was someone I loved, and like the song “Mighty to Save” by Laura Story, I remembered that “Everyone needs compassion, a love that’s never failing…” and so I remembered to care for him, talk to him, and love him, because I didn’t want him to think that he was a burden. I valued him. And I think that did make a difference.
I’m not implying that any of you are uncaring by thinking of older people as burdens, but I think that sometimes we can get stressed out with own lives and with caregiving, that we forget that those older than us still have souls and still need to be reminded that they are full of personality and worth.
So if you don’t die early, here’s another option. Why not start treating all older people in your life as if they are REAL people, valuable and helpful to society? If you do it, maybe someone else will too and I’d say, that’s not a bad start.