Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Golden Years - Dealing with Difficult Times

In the paper today was an article about the impact on older people of reduced state Medicare reimbursements. "These people deserve a quality of life in their golden years," said a nursing home official.

Golden years? I've heard that phrase all my life. This time it made me pause and really think about the words. What's so GOLDEN about getting old and dying?

Every time I see my father-in-law, a former fighter pilot who served in three wars, I give him a big hug and say, "You look good, Dad. How are you doing?"

He ALWAYS replies as follows: "This business of growing old is hard."

He doesn't smile when he says it. He's not kidding around. With the help of his wife and a cane, he slowly makes his way into the house - very slowly, about 100 feet. At 88, that's as far as he can go. If I ever mentioned the phrase "the golden years" to him, he'd think I was making some kind of cruel joke.

We cherish this time with him because we know there's not much of it left. We'd love it if he lived to be 100, but he's been declining and it doesn't seem likely. He isn't afraid of death. Besides being a man of courage and toughness, his strong Christian faith assures him there's more to his life after death.

All religions have this kind of reassurance. But millions of people live their lives without religion. I've met and known many "nonbelievers," and most of them are gentle, wise and productive people. They deserve peace in their hearts, too. But they have to find it some other way.

How do they deal with it? Here's what I've gathered from them.

1. They see death as a natural part of living. So they arrive at a place of "acceptance" that at some point their existence will come to an end. This commitment to acceptance is analogous to a believer's commitment to faith.

2. Since they don't have any idea when death will happen for them, or what the circumstances will be like, they don't dwell on it. They think it's futile to focus on something you can't predict. Instead, they focus on life. They see the present moment as a precious gift, so they want to relish it, make the most of it.

3. After seeing the struggles of their aging family members, they know the adversity usually gets worse with each year and at the end it can be almost intolerable. Life will have so little quality by then that they will welcome the end as a final rest.

I think these are the thoughts that give nonbelievers peace of mind, shielding them from waking in the middle of the night with feelings of terror. Which could happen to anyone, even those who've committed to a path of faith, especially if their faith is weak.

I give Dad his hug, knowing it's time for him to deal with these issues. Life is hard for him now, but his faith is strong.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength .


Meredith Bell said...

This is truth-telling at its best, Denny. Thank you for addressing a topic that many avoid because of their fear of dying. The three points you make seem to apply well to believers and non-believers alike.

John Murphy said...

i'd be terrified od death if I didn't have my faith. Someone asked Billy Graham how he could remain an optimist in the face of society's moral decline. "Because I've read the last page of the Bible," he said. "I know how it's going to turn out." That's the way I feel about death. no matter how hard aging is, it's going to be okay. Thanks for the thought-provoking post!