Among the earliest things we learn as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are the first principles and ordinances of the gospel: faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. There is, of course, a fifth principle that is often spoken about, but, to my mind, not often enough connected to these first four principles and that is “enduring to the end.” Add that to the list — faith, repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, enduring to the end — and you are good to go.
I wholeheartedly suggest this addition because in today’s world — a world of medical advances that extend many people’s lives — this component takes on a whole new meaning. I am not complaining, I am grateful for modern medicine and that so many who have benefited from medical advances are still here mentoring and loving and serving. Yet, although it is wonderful it can, at times, prove to be enormously challenging. While life can be prolonged this does not necessarily mean that we can prolong the quality of life. Very simply, as we live longer and longer and longer and as the human body ages and ages and ages, inevitably, disabilities set in.
I purchased a pillow for my mother years ago. The words embedded on it were meant to be humorous and flippant — or so I thought. Stitched into the cover was “Old Age is Not for Sissies.” I know now that truer words were never spoken!
For example, I popped over to my neighbor's house yesterday to respond to a message she left on my phone asking me to bake a ham for the funeral of a dear older sister in our ward who lingered for some time after a debilitating stroke and passed away this past week. I thought of her and only imagined how difficult it was for her to depend on someone else for almost all her care after living a long, rich, and independent life. Dependency is, in and of itself, often an unwanted, sometimes unpleasant condition and the possibility of being a “burden to others” (though often untrue) is many an aging person’s worst nightmare!
As my neighbor and I talked, she mentioned another neighbor who spent many years caring for a husband with Alzheimer’s disease. A member of my extended family is now dealing with this illness. Frustration tempered by prayers begging patience is often the only way to successfully extend care under such challenging circumstances.
Before knowing better, I believed that extending care to an Alzheimer’s victim was akin to tending a young child as the patient, over time, loses memory of people and events until he recognizes no one and becomes fully dependent on others. I was wrong. The Alzheimer’s patient still has a lifetime of stored memories and behaviors that can manifest themselves in sometimes startling and difficult ways. And while all this is occurring, the caregiver is, more and more, confined to the home. For elderly caregivers the loss of a loved one — though still living — along with the loss of independence, interaction with others, and added physical, mental, and emotional responsibilities, can be brutally taxing.
Then, shortly after her husband passed away, this same dear woman came down with shingles and most recently started suffering problems with her sight. She now experiences double vision and when she walks becomes terribly nauseated. She cannot drive and walking and moving around bring nausea, making it difficult to perform even simple tasks. Therefore, she spends much of her time simply sitting.
And this one woman’s experience is simply the tip of the iceberg!
My purpose here is two-fold. It is not to depress but to encourage each of us to consider the challenges that will come with aging and the need for fortitude and a deeper reliance on God as our need of him increases. It is also to encourage admiration and support for those who are "enduring to the end," and for the many who do so with redoubled faith and trust in a God whom they have come to know in a very personal way.
There are joys, challenges, and lessons to be learned up to and until the end of longer and longer lives. Faith, repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end are markers of discipleship. And as more and more are coming to realize that old age is not for wimps.
Kristine Frederickson writes on issue-oriented topics that affect members of the LDS Church worldwide in her column “LDS World."