Reflection #3

“Letter to My Children”

The letter below was written by an 80 year old lady to her children. We chose it as the reading for this week because it gives us insight into what the elderly we visit truly want at this point in their lives. She tells her children, “All I want is just a few unhurried minutes.” As you visit the nursing home this week, keep that phrase in mind. Try to give them just a few unhurried minutes. Sit down. Relax. Be comfortable. Try not to look at your watch. Be present with them.

To all my children:

A few years ago, I saw a tee-shirt with the words “Live Long Enough to Be a Burden to Your Children.” Back then, I thought it was funny, Today, I don’t think it’s funny at all, because I am afraid I’m doing just that. None of us want to be a burden to our family, but the older we get, the more we realize that age comes not only to the aging person, but to the family, as well. Both must accept old age and make the necessary adjustments.

Sometimes I wonder how the children of Methuselah felt about their father who lived to be 969 years old. Imagine, at more than 900 years old, did he have all of his faculties at that age? Or was he blind, deaf, and maybe so feeble that he couldn’t walk? Did his children worry about whether he was eating right, getting enough exercise and dressing warmly enough? How did he accept his advancing years? These questions came to mind because, as a parent, I hate having to rely on my children to do things for me that I could do for myself a few years ago.

You children are always so kind and generous about looking after me, but I want to be doing for myself. I long to drive my car again. I want to go alone to the grocery store to shop, and I want to drive myself there. I want…but you get the idea. What I really want is to be 70 again. The truth of it is, that our roles are reversed, and now I am your child needing you in a special way.

I suppose my upcoming birthday started my thoughts along these lines. You never forget my birthday, or any other special day, without a gift. I realize the problems you must have in choosing a gift, because I have what I need in material possessions. This is a good time to tell you that what I truly want are things I can never get enough of, yet they are free. I want the intangibles. I want just a little more of your time, and that’s selfish of me, I know, because you have your own children, and grandchildren, who want your time, and also you need time for yourselves. But all I want is just a few unhurried minutes. I would like for you to come and sit with me, and for you to be relaxed. It makes me so nervous when you sit on the edge of your chair and keep looking at your watch. We can talk, or we can be silent. I would just like for us to be together.

I need your patience when I don’t hear what you say the first time, so please don’t be annoyed. I know how tiresome it is to always be repeating , but sometimes I must ask you to repeat. Now, you don’t need to yell at me, just speak slowly. I need your patience when I think too much about the past. I need your patience with my slowness and my set ways. I want you to be tolerant with what the years have done to me physically.

Please be understanding about my personal care habits. I really can’t see when my dress is dirty. I spill things. I lose things. I can’t remember what time to take my medication. I take too many naps, I know, because you have said, “Quit spending all of your time sleeping.” Well, sometimes when I sleep in the daytime, it was because I was awake half the night. At other times, sleep helps to pass the day. When I have nothing but time on my hands, a 15-minute nap seems like an hour.

Well, there you have it: time, patience, and understanding. These are the priceless gifts that I want. Over and over again, I take my bible, (thank God that I can still read), and I read what Paul wrote in Philippians 4:11: “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” But oh, how trying!


Mom Keltner

The letter above was originally read on the “Focus on the Family” radio broadcast entitled, “Caring for Elderly Parents”. Permission has been given to reprint it without prior approval. It has been edited for length and purpose.