Aging Well: An open letter about aging to my adult children

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Editor’s Note: UMR Columnist Missy Buchanan sent the following letter to her three children as a means of helping them think about end-of-life issues. She offers it in the hope that all of us will consider writing their own letter about issues that we hesitate to think about, but which we all face.

Dear kids,

Today I am giving you a gift you would probably rather not receive… at least not right now. It will likely make you squirm a bit, but I love you so much that I’m giving it to you anyway, knowing that one day you will more fully grasp its benefit and wisdom.
Sure it’s tough to bring up end-of-life issues, especially when your dad and I are still active and fully engaged in life. Even though we hope to be around for decades more, now is precisely the right time to give you this gift. In fact, I know from my experience with your grandparents that it is one of the most generous things a loved one can do.

I remember the peace of mind I had at the end of your grandparents’ lives. In spite of their faltering health and difficult circumstances, the hard decisions were made infinitely easier because they had cared enough to plan ahead.

Your dad and I are following their lead. We are prayerfully considering our own journeys through aging and have recently updated the important documents that you will likely need for us one day— Durable Powers of Attorney, Advanced Health Care Directives, wills and other legal documents. We have also prearranged our funeral plans and have written down a few ideas for memorial services.

In truth, we need you to know that as you come alongside us on this journey through late life, there will certainly be difficult days. I remember how emotions bubbled up inside me with each new realization that your grandparents were growing more dependent and frail. Those changes, though, are a natural part of aging. So as we prepare to face the future together, there are a few things I’d like to share openly, hoping that readers will be inspired to write their own letters to their families.

First, I am quite confident that as I age you will protect my dignity as best you can. Recognize that even if I grow frail and require assistance for my most basic needs, I am not a child. Help others, including caregivers, to know that my life has been full and wonderful. Help them to see that I am more than the Woman in Room 232. And help me to discover new ways to serve others when I am no longer able to do the things I once did. Encourage me to keep learning something new when I feel like giving up. And be patient with me in your teaching.

If ever disease steals away my memory, know that I would remember if I only could. If I say or do something that is inappropriate, you have my permission to giggle but please don’t mock me because dementia has stolen my filter.

Though I will want and need your loving attention, promise me that you will never sacrifice your own family’s needs. They need you, and you need them. You need your friends, too, so strive to keep a healthy balance in life. Take vacations without an ounce of guilt! Caring for an aging parent is never easy but embrace it as an opportunity to grow spiritually.

As best you can, help me to stay connected to my dearest friends if we become scattered. If ever it becomes necessary for me to transition to assisted living or a nursing home because of health or safety concerns, take comfort in knowing that I am at peace with that decision because I trust you and know that you are doing what is in my best interest.

I hope you will share family stories and laugh together so I can hear. Be kind to one another and share the burdens. Love each other well, because in loving each other, you love me.

If there comes a time when chronic health conditions bring my life to the brink of its natural end, I hope that you will not try to extend it through extreme medical measures. Just surround me with laughter and joy, prayer and music and allow me to slip into God’s loving arms. And after I’m gone, celebrate my life with joy and gratitude on your lips. For I have been blessed in this life and am confident that I will see you again in the next.

I love you,

Mom

Missy Buchanan, UMR Columnist

Missy Buchanan is a sought-after speaker on topics of older adult ministry and spiritual creativity, she brings passion and humor to many events for churches, organizations, and women’s groups. She has appeared on Good Morning America with co-host Robin Roberts and is the author of books including Living with Purpose in a Worn-Out Body: Spiritual Encouragement for Older Adults, Talking with God in Old Age: Meditations and Psalms, and Don’t Write My Obituary Just Yet: Inspiring Faith Stories for Older Adults. She has written for many publications including Presbyterians Today, Mature Years, Christian Association Serving Adults Ministries, Entrepreneur, and The Dallas Morning News.

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
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Gil Caldwell
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I was a bit startled as I read the words of one person who responded to this article by including negative words about “libs, progs, obama care, etc”. I, at the age of 80 if I wrote a letter to my sons about aging and life and death, would say to them; “Dale and Paul, you know that I have been an activist re; race, gender, justice for lgbt persons and marriage equality, poverty, peace, etc. But, my hope is that there will be persons at my Memorial Service who disagreed with me on some, or all of these issues,… Read more »

james
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james

Some years ago my wife and I included in our final instructions a DNR. That document must be “on top” of the file at all times. One thing we did not discuss was the possibility of one–or both–of us living in a nursing home. My sweet wife does now–she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s (as nearly as CAN be diagnose) 8 or so years ago. I cared for her in our home for 6 years until I finally could do it no longer–and still have very guilty feelings about that. And, we are distinctly blessed by a very supportive family. A… Read more »

Mark
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Mark

Wonderful message here that spoke to my heart as we have just placed my father in hospice care. Thanks.

Martha Torreson
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Martha Torreson

I commented on Missy’s FB “Aging and Faith” page yesterday. I’m putting this comment here, as well, as what she has written here truly brought tears to my eyes. And, has stuck with me throughout this day, with still a lump in my throat… Missy, I have followed all of this in caring for my 96 yo father (who was very healthy & active at age 90, & then he had a massive stroke)… That is, I have followed this all EXCEPT this part which you wrote: “Though I will want and need your loving attention, promise me that you… Read more »

Rev. CA Broome
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Great reminder about how we can help our family and friends deal with our death. I am so passionate about this topic that I have also written a workbook called, “It’s Your Funeral Leaving Nothing Undone, A Workbook for Planning Your Funeral Service Before You Die” http://itsyourfuneralleavingnothingundone.wordpress.com/ As a pastor I find that people do not leave very much information about what they want to happen at their funeral service. They often leave the entire planning of their very personal funeral/memorial service up to a third party, too often a stranger to the family. My book is a tool for… Read more »

Robert W. Chism
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Telling your children that their parents are not the same and have begun to lose some of their GO, GO, GO; and aging is not more of the same, but rather an evolution of changes that neither we nor they fully comprehend.

Remigio P. Panlaqui
Guest

This is a very helpful, relevant and practical advice especially to children whose parents are facing the challenges and the realities of the aging process and ultimately the end of life. I listed the plans suggested by Missy in preparing for this very important issue for I, myself, am already in this stage like that of Missy. Incidentally both of us are members of the GBOD Committee on Older Adult Ministry. Thank you Missy for this letter. See you in Nashville in two weeks.

John F Yeaman
Guest

Great ideas and suggestions, with one doubt: pre-arranged funeral plans are not such a good idea, because you cannot know what will happen in funerals. With a very supportive congregation our family did not need the services funeral homes provide, so for my wife we had direct cremation that was not expensive. Another necessary document is what to do if you cannot communicate as with dementia and other situations. See one on my web site yeapeople.com.

Robert W. Chism
Guest

Telling your children that their parents are not the same and have begun to lose some of their GO, GO, GO; and aging is not more of the same, but rather an evolution of changes that neither we nor they fully comprehend.

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