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Give the gift of time to your elders

Senior citizens
A pair of elderly couples view the ocean and waves along the beach in La Jolla, California, March 8, 2012. |

She may be hunched over with osteoporosis, but Joy lives up to her name — she has a broad smile, twinkling eyes, and a listening ear. With her vibrancy you’d not guess she’s 88. She quickly became a source of love and hope in her senior living community. She joined many of the activities — sit-down exercise and water aerobics. She loves Tuesday bingo and has tried to get to know her fellow residents. But there are still so many quiet hours to fill each day.

Joy explains, “It’s mostly the loneliness that bothers me. I don’t mind the aches of getting old, I miss my husband, and I don’t see my sons very much.”

If you live long enough, you may find yourself the resident of a senior living facility. Indeed, there are currently one million Americans living in one of these communities — when you add in the seniors living in assisted care, it’s over two and half million people. By the year 2030, that number will double.  America’s aging population will reach 14 million by 2040.

Senior living communities are going to be expanding. While senior care can vary at some of the facilities, many train their staff to be kind and respectful. They need to be patient even when coping with a senior’s impatience. There are times when memory loss adds its own challenges to those sharing their living spaces. The confusion and frustration only add to the sadness these seniors feel.

While senior independent living is encouraged, it’s also lonely once apartment doors are shut. They decorate their rooms with photos from a former life. Surrounded by old memories and yet, they have so few visitors come to share those memories. It’s sad, but it’s a common theme. Another slow loss of connection with the world they were once such a big part of.

Like Joy, many widows are living out their days remembering their child-rearing years and the marriages that saw them into old age. Now, it’s a slow reversal of fortunes — losing the family home, losing the large dining table that was the center of so many family gatherings, and then the worst — no longer seeing the family that made life purposeful.

According to Linda, a senior center physical therapist, “I can get their bodies moving and encourage them to keep active, but so often I see a deep sadness in their eyes that exercise doesn’t help.”

With so many vibrant people living in these centers, could we not do better at alleviating some of that loneliness? So, here’s a suggestion, volunteer a few hours every so often to visit an elder. Just one. Get to know them, listen to their stories (you’ll hear them again). Offer to take them out for errands — that’s such a treat for them. Your local senior facility will know who could use a friend.

When Jesus told us to store our treasure in Heaven (Matthew 6:20), some of that treasure is helping those who no longer can help themselves. In the book of James (James 1:27) we are told that genuine religion in the sight of God is caring for orphans and widows in their distress. So many widows are living their final seasons in solitude, how distressing that must be.

These seniors have made an incredibly hard transition. They have lived independently, and now life is beginning to take away their options. For those of us younger, living our lives of freedom, let’s appreciate it for the blessing it is. We have a gift these seniors could use — a little bit of our time.

As a way of thanking God for your health and freedom, go and visit an elder who no longer has either. It’s a few hours you’ll give away, but I’ve found when I give my time away, God gives it back in blessed ways.

Karen Farris saw the need to help underserved kids while serving in a youth ministry that gave her the opportunity to visit rural schools on the Olympic Peninsula. She now volunteers her time grant writing to bring resources to kids in need. She also shares stories of faith in action for those needing a dose of hope on her weekly blog, Friday

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