How Do You View the Elderly?
OUR modern age has seen many rapid changes. Among these is how people view the elderly. At one time respect for the elderly was almost universal. But that is not the case today. Quite a contrary attitude is developing in many lands. In this regard, an older college professor observed:
“Old age is a disease in America. The aged person becomes a leper, to be put away in an institution, or, if lucky, and affluent, in an expensive colony, separated from the rest of mankind.”
A study of schoolchildren by the University of Maryland’s Center on Aging found that youngsters usually viewed elderly people as “sick, sad, tired, dirty and ugly.” It is a tragedy of the times that elderly people are less and less respected by younger ones. Even more tragic is the fact that more children do not consider it an obligation to care for their aging parents.
However, this attitude is not unexpected, at least not by those who keep abreast of the events of our day in the light of Bible prophecy. It foretold that in our day, these “last days” of this present wicked system of things, many would be “lovers of themselves, . . . disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection.”—2 Tim. 3:2-5.
God’s View of the Aged
It is of great interest and importance to see how God views the elderly.
When the people of ancient Israel were in covenant relationship with God, they were commanded: “Before gray hair you should rise up, and you must show consideration for the person of an old man, and you must be in fear of your God.” (Lev. 19:32) Thus, respect for the aged was a sacred duty, linked to being in subjection to God. Similarly, the apostle Paul said: “Do not severely criticize an older man [even when wrong]. To the contrary, entreat him as a father, . . . older women as mothers.”—1 Tim. 5:1, 2.
Proper regard for one’s parents was included as one of the Ten Commandments, the fifth, which stated: “Honor your father and your mother in order that your days may prove long upon the ground that Jehovah your God is giving you.” (Ex. 20:12) Note, too, the following Bible verses reflecting God’s thinking regarding the children’s relationship to their parents:
“Listen to your father who caused your birth, and do not despise your mother just because she has grown old.”—Prov. 23:22.
“He that is maltreating a father and that chases a mother away is a son acting shamefully and disgracefully.”—Prov. 19:26.
“The eye that holds a father in derision and that despises obedience to a mother—the ravens of the torrent valley will pick it out and the sons of the eagle will eat it up.”—Prov. 30:17.
Respect in Other Cultures
Even among many ancient nations not governed by God’s laws, the aged were given proper respect. Ancient Egypt’s young men were taught to rise before their elders as a mark of honor, yielding first place to them. The young of ancient Greece were taught to be silently respectful before older persons.
In some parts of the world today older persons are still given much esteem. In a section of the Soviet Union where many live to be over 100, it is said that a contributing factor to their longevity is the respect that they are given. They are made to feel useful and are wanted, holding a dignified place in society.
Earlier in United States history, older folks were usually respected and obeyed. Parents took care of their children, and, when the children were grown, it was understood that they would take care of their parents.
Concerning today’s attitudes toward the elderly in one city, the New York Daily News had this observation:
“Curiously, it is an advantage at this stage in life [being elderly] to be black or Hispanic in New York. Blacks and Hispanics take care of their elderly.
“The white generally do not, and their numbers account for many of the estimated 300,000 people over 65 who live alone in rent-controlled apartments, or run-down hotels and rooming houses.”
Certainly the elderly need to feel wanted, loved. If they are not, they may just give up on life. Dr. Amos Johnson, of the American Academy of Family Physicians, said:
“I have seen old people in a reasonably healthy condition who, when put away in the isolation of custodial care facilities, totally lose interest in life.
“They refuse to communicate, refuse to eat, become totally bedridden, waste away and die. This is a disease process called ‘isolation’ and should be so designated on the death certificate.”
Younger persons who take an interest in older ones often find the experience enriching. One middle-aged man observed that some of the most interesting, profitable, “golden” hours of his life were those spent in the company of older folks.
Why can this be so? Older persons have lived longer, have usually experienced many more things in life. Their views and recollections can be very valuable. And this is of particular benefit when an older person has lived his life in harmony with God’s laws and principles. Of such ones, the Bible says: “Gray-headedness is a crown of beauty when it is found in the way of righteousness.”—Prov. 16:31.
They can be like a hidden treasure. But a treasure, to be useful, has to be discovered and used. The rich mine of information, wisdom and views of older persons needs to be tapped. So children, teen-agers, young adults and middle-aged adults would do well to exchange views with their elders. And if the older ones may be reluctant to offer their comments, tactfully ask them for their opinions. You may be surprised at how rewarding this can be. In turn, it will provide them with encouragement and uplift.
It is not only good counsel and information that older ones can give; many upset young people have found great peace of mind in the company of older ones, who often have a warmth, affection and understanding that is very appealing. A kind word from such a one can help to ease the problems of the day. That is why grandparents usually make such excellent baby-sitters.
This does not mean that every elderly person constantly speaks words of wisdom and uplift. (Eccl. 4:13) Nobody does that. They may often have erroneous views; but so do others. They may also have peculiarities, as do others. Yet, notwithstanding their imperfections, many of which are magnified by old age, God’s view is that they merit our consideration and respect.
How You Can Help
Two elderly ladies, friends, lived in separate homes in the same town. One day there was a heavy snowfall. The next morning, when one of the ladies looked outside, she was amazed to find that her sidewalk had been shoveled clean of snow.
The woman wondered who could have done this kind deed without even letting her know or asking payment. She called her friend to tell her about it. But her friend said, in equal amazement, that her sidewalk, too, had been shoveled clean.
Weeks later, there was another heavy snow. The next morning, both found that their sidewalks had again been shoveled. Later, another heavy snow was forecast, and it came. That evening one of the ladies went to bed early and was up the next morning by 6. When she looked out the window, there was a 12-year-old boy shoveling the snow.
How happy it made her and her friend to think that someone cared enough to perform such a service. And why so early in the morning? So that the elderly ladies would not see him and feel obligated to pay for his work! That boy performed a service that was of great practical help. It is a sample of the many things that can be done by others to ease the burdens that come with advanced age.
At the same time, however, balance and tact are needed. One must not become overbearing or bossy in offering help, or short-tempered. It is important, wherever possible, that the older person still feel in control of his or her life.
As an example, one day a man saw an older woman carrying a heavy package. He politely asked: “Could I help you carry that, ma’am?” She smiled, expressed gratitude for the offer, but declined, saying: “No, I can still do this for myself.”
On the other hand, a man was about to cross a busy intersection of a city in mid-winter. He saw an elderly lady just standing at the curb with an apprehensive look on her face. Then he noticed the mound of snow and ice that she had to cross. Turning to her, he asked: “May I help you?” She quickly responded: “Oh, yes, would you please?”
Visits Mean Much
Visits with elderly folks mean much to them. As one older person said of those who visit: “They cannot know what joy they bring to one whose children and grandchildren are far away.” You may have an interesting experience to tell them, or some items from the news that may be of value to them. However, many times your just being a good listener is the most important service you can give.
Another thing that many elderly folks would appreciate when their eyesight is not what it used to be is your reading aloud to them. You may have an upbuilding item from a letter you received. Or they may have some material they would like you to read to them. You might read and discuss together a portion of the Bible. Many find the variety of information that is published in Awake! magazine and also the Bible magazine The Watchtower interesting and edifying to read aloud.
At times, a small token of your interest can also be brought in the form of a gift. It can be food, a plant, or perhaps something you have made. Yes, you may even bring a money gift if you see a need. Then, too, you could offer to cook them a meal, or perhaps offer to take them out to one if they are able to go. Or they might appreciate being invited to other homes or gatherings. Offer to accompany them there. And when this is done, check to see if they are being cared for at the gathering.
Sometimes the aging process results in illnesses or infirmities that prevent one from going out to care for necessary matters, such as shopping. It would be a real kindness to offer to do this, or to see that it gets done.
Yes, there are many ways that others can help to make life more enjoyable for older ones. Doing so shows the godly spirit of giving. It helps the giver too, bringing more satisfaction to his or her life because of knowing that the right thing has been done. And they usually get greater love shown to them by the recipient. Jesus said: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.”—Acts 20:35.
That is the spirit behind the good deed that the 12-year-old boy performed for the two elderly ladies when he shoveled the snow off their sidewalks. He had learned such a godly attitude from the training he had received in Bible principles as the son of one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. His father had taught him that being a servant of God includes good works as well as belief in God.—Jas. 2:26.
In many lands, there are various agencies of government that are able to offer financial assistance, and it would be proper to use these.
At times, though, forms of financial help from the outside are not enough, or do not exist. Then what financial obligation, in particular, do one’s own grown children have toward aging parents, and even grandparents? On this important matter God’s Word says:
“If any widow has children or grandchildren, let these learn first to practice godly devotion in their own household and to keep paying a due compensation to their parents and grandparents, for this is acceptable in God’s sight.
“Certainly if anyone does not provide for those who are his own, and especially for those who are members of his household [such as elderly parents or grandparents], he has disowned the faith and is worse than a person without faith.”—1 Tim. 5:4, 8.
To say that one should not have to accept the burden of elderly parents really does not make sense. The children were cared for by their parents in many ways. For 18 to 20 years or more they depended on the parents for food, housing, clothing, education, money and other things. This included being cared for when they were helpless babies, as well as when they got sick. Why, then, should it seem wrong for children, when grown, to take up the responsibility of caring for their aging parents?
Of course, the time may come when it is no longer possible personally to provide the care that one of advanced age needs if that one becomes incapacitated. It may be that better care could be taken of them in a nursing home that specializes in this. If this becomes necessary, they should be visited often. Spending one’s last years in a nursing home is not pleasant.
Will the lot of mankind always include getting old, perhaps ultimately bedridden and unable to engage in activities once enjoyed, with death always the final result?