Sunday

How to Age Well

In my job as a health care worker, I’m privileged to treat many elderly patients. I’ve worked in the same practice for more than 31 years, so I’ve also had the opportunity to watch our patient population age. 

The ones who were children when I joined the staff now have children of their own. The college students are middle-aged. Those who were middle-aged are now elderly. 

I find the middle-agers who are now senior citizens most interesting, probably because I see my future most clearly in them. 

Some have aged well. Their faces have grown kinder. Their personalities have softened. Their eyes sparkle with laughter, and their hearts overflow with gratitude. Even though their physical limitations make caring for them more difficult, I look forward to seeing them because they’re fun, inspiring, and sweet. 

Others, I’m sad to say, haven’t improved with age. Their words are impatient and sharp. Their faces wear a permanent scowl. They’re demanding, suspicious, and entitled. Instead of believing the best about the people who have cared for them all these years, they believe we’re part of a giant conspiracy to steal their money. 

Watching people age has taught me much. It’s helped me realize I have a choice to make about how I approach each day—with grumbling or gratitude. 

If I choose to grumble about my aches, pains, and limitations, my grumpy words will reflect my grumpy attitude. If I demand special care because of my age, social status, or income, I’ll never be satisfied, because any effort will fall short by my unrealistic standards. If I grow suspicious and cynical and treat honest, hard-working people with distrust, I’ll sabotage any hope of genuine care, because relationships require trust. 

Like a dog who’s been eating out of the garbage can, the stench of my bad attitude will precede me, surround me, and linger behind me wherever I go. Before long, people will catch a whiff and hide rather than hold their breath in my presence. 


If I embrace gratitude, however, I’ll become a very different person. By focusing on my blessings (and everyone has some), I can change the atmosphere of a room almost instantly. By expressing thanks for the care others show me, I can validate those who feel unappreciated or overlooked. By trusting others and assuming the good (while exercising discretion, of course), I can foster an environment of mutual respect and commitment. 

Like bed sheets fresh from the clothesline, I can scatter sunshine and fresh air wherever I go. Instead of hiding when people see me coming, they’ll gravitate toward me, eager to share a smile, a laugh, or an encouraging word. 

Of all the patients I've cared for, Mrs. Maisy is one of my favorites. 

Well into her 90s, she lost a husband and a son in tragic deaths. While we’ve often talked about her losses, she always ends the conversation the same way. “I have much to be thankful for. God has given me a good life.” 

For the last year or so, Mrs. Maisy’s been battling cancer. Three weeks before she passed away, she came in for a visit. Every staff member stuck their head into the treatment room to speak to her. 

“How’re you doing, Mrs. Maisy?” 

“Oh, I’m slowing down,” she said, shaking her head. But her blue eyes twinkled and a smile hovered at the corners of her mouth. “It won’t be long now. But I’m ready. I have much to be thankful for. God has given me a good life.” 

Mrs. Maisy’s obituary was two columns long in the local paper, but I believe her greatest accomplishment wasn’t the committees she served on or the charities with which she worked. Her greatest accomplishment was demonstrating to the world that old doesn’t have to be synonymous for grumpy. Old can also mean grateful. 

Thank you, Mrs. Maisy, for showing me how to age gracefully, squeeze every bit of joy out of life, and share that joy with those around me. Thanks for teaching me I have a choice about the type of old person I become—grumbly or grateful. I want to wear well the grateful gown you left behind. 

"Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever."(1 Chronicles 16:34).

Now it’s your turn. Have you known someone who got sweeter, kinder, and more grateful as they aged? How did their example impact you? Leave a comment below and share your story. If you’re reading by email, CLICK HERE to visit Hungry for God online and leave a comment.



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13 comments:

  1. One of my first jobs was as an aide in a nursing home. I was born when my parents were older so most of the friends and family were older. There are many wonderful lessons to learn from people who are older and have experienced life. I love listening to their life stories.

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    1. Me, too, Melissa. My grandmother was a huge influence in my life. I especially loved hearing her stories of growing up in "the old country" (Portugal). They taught me gratitude and respect for people who had so little yet never quit.

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  2. So very true! I think how we age depends upon how well she shed ourselves of this world. If we keep our focus on heavenly things our mouths are turned upward in a smile. If we are focused more on this fallen world, then our down-turned mouth reflects that also. I love this post. What a wonderful reminder that we must make a choice how to live our lives each day.

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    1. That's a beautiful description, J.D., and I think you're absolutely right. Reminds me of the lyrics, "and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace." Much of our contentment rests in where our focus lies. If we look to the world for our satisfaction, we'll grow disappointed and cynical. Especially for the believer, the stuff of this world will never bring us joy. Thanks for chiming in today.

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  3. Hi Lori, I love your devotions! I look forward to them, and wish you had one come out every day! I had a hard time with this one though, not necessarily because of what you wrote, but rather because of the stage of life my father is in now. He is 87 years old and battling Alzheimer's disease, and the disease has taken a toll on his personality. Sometimes he is sweeter than he's ever been in his life, calling me "sweetie" and telling me, "I love you more" after I tell him I love him. He tells me and my sister that we're "smart and beautiful." But, sometimes there's another person that comes out, one shaped by the Alzheimer's disease. One I don't recognize, as he becomes paranoid, suspicious, angry, and downright mean. So as I read your words, I wondered how many of your patients, who had those negative behaviors, were shaped by some sort of Alzheimer's disease or dementia. Sometimes people outside the family get to see my sweet, funny dad, and other times they see the nasty man I don't know. Also, I think there is a part of my dad - the part that was rejected by his father throughout his life - that might play at least a small role in the dad I don't know. My dad kept the pain of that rejection bottled up his entire life, and just now we're getting a glimpse into just how much that rejection hurt him. In his lucid moments he shares that pain with us, and we know what he says during those times is true. So, I wonder if bottled up pain might shape some of your negative patients. And, if they don't know Jesus (which is downright sad!) that will certainly shape their attitudes. So, I guess what I'm doing is defending at least some of your patients' negative attitudes, as I feel sorry for them. Only God knows what makes them the way they are. As for me, your devotion inspired me to smile more, and focus more on the positives as I'm going through many difficult things right now. I want to have one of those sweet faces you described. Thanks, Lori, and God bless! As always, I look forward to your next devotion.

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    1. Dear Friend,
      You are absolutely right, as your experience with your own father has shown, that many situations don't have a clear and obvious cause. While we can do much to shape our attitudes, we are also affected by factors beyond our control, like disease. Thank you for pointing this out. I want you to know I treat all my patients equally, kind and unkind, grumpy and gracious, because they are created in the image of God and worthy of care and respect. Sometimes I make it my goal to see if I can get a grumpy patient to smile or laugh by the end of the appointment. Most times I succeed (usually by telling a silly grandchild story).

      I'm so sorry you've had to walk this road with your precious dad. Dementia slowly took my precious grandmother from our family, and my sympathies and empathy is with you. What an emotional rollercoaster never to know which Dad was going to greet you. May God give you grace and extra measures of kindness and faith as you walk this difficult road.

      Blessings to you,
      Lori

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    2. Thank you, Lori. I never doubted for a minute that you treat all your patients well. I hope you have a blessed day! ❤

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  4. That brought tears to my eyes, Lori. Thanks for sharing about Ms. Maisy. May we all be like her when we are in our 90s.

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    1. She was a treasure, that's for sure, Barbara. I'll introduce you two in heaven one day :)

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  5. My husband's grandmother passed away in mid-April at 97 years old. She had been especially "ready" to see Jesus for almost 20 years. When we'd visit her, she always said the same thing "I'm ready to see Jesus if only He would come & get me." I think He knew that she still had lives to touch while here ... she authored 3 books of poetry which were mostly born out of her grief after the death of her youngest son (which was also around 20 years ago). I pray that God will continue to use me to touch people for His glory for many years to come.

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    1. Aw, Susan, what a great example of someone who has made the most of her life and spent it well, despite "longing for another city." Thanks for sharing your husband's grandmother with us. She sounds like a gem and a great inspiration.

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  6. Anonymous1:19 PM

    Have you ever considered that those who are grouch or suspicious might have reasons they feel that way? Instead of saying these people haven't aged well, I think "there but for the grace of God go I". Maybe someone has tried to scam them out of money. Maybe they are in unrelenting pain. Maybe they have a yet to be diagnosed kind of dementia that makes them more suspicious. I have been told I should meet these people where they are at, in spite of their grouchiness.
    I have yet to be elderly. I am sure it is difficult to give up control of most of your life. I sure hope I age gracefully. If I grumble occasionally, I sure hope someone is there with compassion rather than judgment.

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  7. Dear Anonymous,
    I'm so sorry my post came across to you as judgmental. I treat all my patients with compassion and kindness, especially those who seem to be struggling. I agree that challenging life circumstances can make it more difficult to trust people, or smile, or be kind, but in many cases we choose how we react to the difficulties that come into our lives. Will we allow them to make us better or bitter, as one reader noted above.

    You are absolutely right, as has been noted earlier, that Alzheimer's and dementia can cause personality changes that can't be controlled. These patients deserve the greatest love and compassion of all. Thanks for reading and for sharing your thoughts.

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