We recently celebrated what would have been my mother’s 100th birthday. During the time she lived in a retirement community a short walk from my house, she taught me about true strength and graceful aging, none of which she told me in words.
In 1967, I married and left home, my sister went to college, and my father died—all within about a month. My mother found her way through all of that loss. She just kept going. At the time I was too tied up in myself to notice. Only after I saw her move here—clearing out on her own a large home and letting go a lifetime of possessions, quietly adjusting to a new community, and flourishing—did I begin to realize what strength she had.
Years later her Parkinson’s disease progressed until she was too unstable to care for herself. Blessed then with a wonderful part-time caregiver, she turned that relationship into a source of joy and flourished still. Before too long she had to renew her driver’s license. When she was unable to pass the test, she simply asked for a government identification card and graciously let the driving go.
Eventually congestive heart failure sent her to the health care wing. Again she recognized and cooperated with the reality of her condition. She let go more possessions and accepted living in only one room, especially once it had a collection of family photos she could see.
During her last months when I visited her she no longer had energy to watch television or follow her beloved March Madness basketball. She simply glowed at having me present. It began to dawn on me how much she did love me, how much she had always loved me even when I hadn’t felt it, how she had given me gift after gift while I was busy with my own life.
Now it’s my turn to be getting older. How will I cope with the diminishments? Can I let go what I have worked hard to develop and collect? Will I choose bitterness and fear or wisdom and grace? Will I live in regret and disappointment, or can it be with joy and love? As my outward body declines will my inward life grow stronger? These are spiritual questions.
What story can you tell about loss or diminishment, yours or another’s, and what have you learned?
What are your spiritual resources for coping and flourishing when you are getting older?
Prayerfully review your life, noticing the ups and the downs, and claim the gifts that accompanied both.
For further reflection:
“There is a spirit which I feel that delights to do no evil, nor to revenge any wrong, but delights to endure all things, in hope to enjoy its own in the end. Its hope is to outlive all wrath and contention, and to weary out all exaltation and cruelty. . . In God alone it can rejoice. . .(James Nayler’s last words, 1660).