“Old age is a continuous series of losses.” Geriatric doctor, Felix Silverstone
“Old age is not a battle. Old age is a massacre.” Author Philip Roth
“Don’t get old.” A church member to this pastor
In his excellent book, Being Mortal, surgeon and author Atul Gawande notes that attitudes about aging have changed dramatically in this country. Unlike the youth-obsessed culture of today, previous generations used to venerate the old and see advantages to aging. People used to lie about their age in a different way than people do today. People used to say they were older than they actually were. Because it used to be an advantage to be older. Think about that. People lied to appear older.
The main focus of Being Mortal is to consider how modern medicine, though improving certain aspects of our lives during the aging process, has in some ways completely failed our older generations. Gawande criticizes the one-size-fits all institutionalism of many nursing homes. He advocates for assisted living facilities and other models of care that honestly face the challenges of living into our seventies, eighties, and nineties but do so in a way that still allow us to make choices around what constitutes a happy and meaningful life. Gawande is critical of his own profession, physicians, who have largely been trained to fix problems that they know how to fix, but are less helpful with the chronic problems that old age inevitably brings. What most of us need as we age is help in managing the challenges of living within an increasingly narrowing scope of control.
The biggest takeaway for me from this book is Gawande’s encouragement for aging seniors to have discussions with their families about their priorities and choices as they age. These include not only end-of-life instructions but what to do in a host of situations including loss of mobility, loss of ability to live alone, and many other choices to be made in the face of serious illness. Gawande notes that most people don’t have these discussions until it is almost too late for them to do any real good.
As we enter old age we would, of course, like to continue doing all the things we could always do. But beyond being safe and cared for, older adults want what the rest of us want as well, a life of meaning, contribution, love, and relationship. I encourage you to check out the book. And I encourage you to talk with family, friends, and your church about what you want for you and your loved ones as we all get older.
Rich Morris, pastor