For brevity, it’s hard to beat George Orwell’s seven-word piece of advice in Politics and the English Language. Orwell says, “Good prose is like a windowpane.”
Speaking of windowpanes, views from our windows, and our thoughts about the views, tell a lot about our lives, and sometimes even about ourselves. We may remember Claire Baker’s limited view those last few years, Grandma Finch’s views from multiple windows, my own cloistered, non-view in India and the views from each of my children’s houses in the USA. The panoramic is from the sunless, secluded basement to the hard-to-climb-the-stairs, or from the “tree-house” view, to the “front room” view of the cul-de-sac or even the view from the loft. All that plus our spiritual “views” tell about us. The spaces we inhabit have an influence on our mood, our behavior, and even the way we move and interact with others. Everyone needs a room with a view, but especially someone whose life is nearing its end. King David prayed, “Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth” (Psa. 71:9).
FARMOR (Chloe Jean–1932-)
Through the window I see spring trees, a sea of blooms and soft, sweet perfume; inside there is the smell of institutional laundry, a clatter of trays and nurses voices. Puréed food (glad for it); no salt, no sugar, no freshness, worse than baby food; puréed bread…sickeningly sticky and translucent; every day the same; other residents not alert or coherent; no real relationships or meaningful friendships; nobody seems to need me anymore; feeling forgotten, the worst kind of loneliness; at everyone else’s mercy, and often folks are not merciful.
The window is all green with sapphire light falling over a black marble sill—black like the coal in the mines of Kentucky where her mother taught school, where her half siblings lived and where a lonely little girl grew up. Waves of thought inundate my brain to wash up nuggets of memory. Nursing school and meeting the Norwegian boy, whose accent I loved.
Norway and the fish and the fjords. There were horses, horses that jumped and fell, taking Tantianna down. Norge og fisken og fjordane … Det var hester, hester som hoppet og falt, tar Tantianna ned.
Boredom and low attention span for any potentially useful or enjoyable pastimes; the only thing that cheers a day is someone else’s smile; inability to speak perhaps the worst of all. My smell is rank; hair itches; can’t wash it. Everyone baby talks me because I can’t talk. They assume I can’t think either, nothing to see, no change of scenery, no vacation from the monotony; feeling useless.
Tobacco sales, lots of tobacco with smoke engulfing the room, the Philippines, entertainment; high society, experimental paper dresses, hand-embroidered blouses wrapping native ladies in luxury. Servants; china dishes; silver trays loaded with food.
Motel in Camden; babies and school days, two babies, joy and sorrow, Action Graphics, printing cards, church bulletin, kind people.
Smell of body odor and urine; stale, recycled air; trapped inside; outside the window—son and grandchildren come with singing and laughter. A cheerful voice—daughter-in-law; institutional smell familiar from working days; lonely; no beryl here, no choices; no stimulation, residents and caretakers unknown. Nurses votary to nursing, but not to religion; see the sweet lady, not my daughter’s face, taking me outside; feeding me, talking about my husband, son and daughter. Stay here; don’t go away. Please stay! Mouth mute, dumb; nose runs, eyes run, someone comes to wash my face. Was in control; hard to switch—like Peter in John 21:18-19. Heaven beckons.
Families should visit the nursing homes often to keep the family together and to encourage others who have no family or friends who care. They should visit often to train their children to be compassionate and to have respect for the elderly. Teach them to love the unlovable, whose endless, monotonous days are spent without hope. “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and are spent without hope. O remember that my life is wind: mine eye shall no more see good” (Job 7:6-7). Another reason for visiting is to be encouraged by the wisdom of the elderly (Lev. 19:32; Prov. 16:31).
In one way elderly people are like babies without the cuteness. We must control our negative thoughts of distaste for their smell and lack of bodily function. We must be willing to wipe the spit-up, change the diapers, wash their hair, bathe and carry them where they need to go. For what would such a one hope? Nothing physical, but for the Christian there is something joyful to anticipate. The elderly are spoken of in Scripture too. King David had a dear friend in Barzillai.
Now Barzillai was a very aged man, even fourscore years old: and he had provided the king of sustenance while he lay at Mahanaim; for he was a very great man. And the king said unto Barzillai, Come thou over with me, and I will feed thee with me in Jerusalem. And Barzillai said unto the king, How long have I to live, that I should go up with the king unto Jerusalem? I am this day fourscore years old: and can I discern between good and evil? can thy servant taste what I eat or what I drink? can I hear any more the voice of singing men and singing women? wherefore then should thy servant be yet a burden unto my lord the king? Thy servant will go a little way over Jordan with the king: and why should the king recompense it me with such a reward? (2 Sam. 19:32-36).
If one is older, what qualities of heart can she develop within her situation to help move through the trials? What good can she still do, what use can her life be to God and His people? Consider Anna, who lived and prayed in the temple night and day (Luke 2:36-37). Even a paraplegic can still pray for others, whether they know it or not. God sees and hears. Can you show mercy to others? That takes humility and long-suffering to be willing to try. “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them” (Ecc. 12:1).
Be comforted. Ask the Lord to put your tears in a bottle or write them in His book (Psa. 56:7-11). Find hope in the world to come (Heb. 6:5). Observe and rejoice in the work of God (Psa. 19:1-3). Comfort and admonish those who come (Heb. 10:24). Let them find joy in visiting your bedside.