My father, Pat Carney, who died in 1995 at age 94, was in a nursing home his final couple of years.
During that period, I spent a lot of time there. At first, it was shocking. He had little privacy, having “strangers” assist him in the bathroom and in the shower, coming into his room at all hours and in some instances, restricting his freedom.
Happily, the place had no persistent foul odor, was nice physically, and the staff was cordial and accommodating. But many residents sat around as in a coma, sleeping or staring into space. Obviously, some care facilities are not so nice and in my opinion, we Americans fall far short in taking care of our elderly.
But regarding nursing-home care in general, my attitude is tempered by expectations. Usually, I’ve noticed, by the time you need nursing services, your expectations are pretty low.
Evidence of the Latest Meal
You have mental or physical disabilities that invariably come with aging. You can’t do many basic things, and you often don’t notice what earlier in life would be irritating. You more easily tolerate your own drooling and evidence of the latest meal on your clothes, and similar normally embarrassing things about yourself and others. It’s all a part of life.
Expectations, it seems, have a lot to do with our attitude about aging, and lots of other things.
Ada Calhoun is the author of a book called, “Why We Can’t Sleep, Women’s New Midlife Crisis.” The book focuses on Generation X, which is variously defined as people born between 1961 and 1981. An Interview of the author recently appeared on the National Public Radio web site.
“One thing that a sociologist who studies the generations told me is that our generation tends to judge ourselves based on everything,” said Calhoun. “So if … in the past the question was, how nice is your home, or how good are you at your job? Now, it’s all of the things. So it’s, are you a good parent? Are you good at work? Is your house nice? Are you in shape? Are you recycling? It’s every single factor in life you have to excel at. And I think that level of pressure is unsustainable.”
Many More Pressures
Judging by the lives of my grown children and their families, I have no doubt there are many more pressures on people today. And I don’t believe all the modern conveniences – the smart phones, the “Alexas” and all the other “smart” gadgets – compensate for it.
But as a believer, I think something important is missing from Calhoun’s comments about people’s expectations and how they judge themselves. It’s another instance in which traditional religion, which is being rejected or ignored by many, can help us cope with life’s pressures.
For Christians, what is missing can best be summed up by a quote from the gospel of Matthew, part of a long presentation by Jesus to a crowd on a mountainside.
Consider the Lilies
“…Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. …Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? …Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”
His point: People of faith place their trust in God, knowing that, ultimately, he/she will take care of us – no matter how nice our house is, whether we recycle or are in a nursing home. Faith-full people don’t compare themselves to others. Granted, trust in God is not easy. We want to be in control. We’re used to making decisions that we believe are definitive. Our expectations for ourselves and others are often impossibly high.
And remarks like the one from Jesus are among reasons some people reject religion. Such appeals for trust seem unrealistic. But Christianity and other religions encourage us to go beyond ourselves, to stretch ourselves to overcome anxiety and fear.
What makes the expectations of people of faith realistic is the assurance that when all is said and done, God is in charge. My Dad felt that assurance and, unbelievably to many, he was happy even at the nursing home.