The loss of physical independence is certainly one of life’s most challenging experiences. Elderly patients often find themselves in a position of giving up their homes and living in what we used to call a nursing home. Now they are often called assisted living. No matter how you dress it up, it still means giving up the comfort of familiar surroundings. This disorientation is compounded by the fact that you may be depending on others to help you walk, move in and out of bed, or assist with toileting.
I am deeply interested in how people respond to such news. After all, I may be in their shoes some day. Many of my core beliefs about life are wrapped up in my ability to walk, provide for myself, and provide for those I love. What if I was unable to walk?
Some elderly people accept their new circumstances stoically. They believe that staying with their children would create hardship, or strained relationships. “I don’t want to be a burden,” they will often say. I certainly admire their selflessness. I am not sure I could be so magnanimous. Who knows how we will respond if and when such decisions come to or lives?
*Itzhak Perlman broke a string on his violin at the beginning of a concert in Houston in 1995. Due to his physical limitations, getting a new string would have required a great deal of time and effort. Instead, he continued playing on three strings, improvising as he performed. The crowd was deeply moved by his performance and gave him a standing ovation. His comment …”You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.”
The people I have seen smiling in nursing homes are those who find other people to talk to and encourage. They have incredible patience and learn to wait on those who wait on them. They are wise enough to be kind to those who feed them their meals, change their bedding, etc…for it is their kindness on which they depend.
What we take into the loss of independence are those fruits of the Spirit that do not depend on circumstances. Love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5: 22) are “heart kept” and cannot be stolen away. You can love your caregivers. You can show them joy and offer them peace. You can be patient and show goodness. You can be gentle with others and practice self-control. I have seen others accomplish this.
A good friend of mine lived to be 93, and spent the last few years of her life in assisted living. Though a stroke had paralyzed her right side, she typed long e-mail letters with one hand, and conducted Bible studies with many of her caregivers and fellow tenants. I find her example admirable and worthy of imitation. I hope I can respond as well should the need arise. We may lose our physical freedom, but the Spirit remains free.
*Taken from Light on the Fringe: Finding Hope in the Darkness of Depression by Gary H. Lovejoy and Gregory M. Knopf.
Author David Martin