A few weeks ago, I watched a stage production of Shakespeare’s comedy, As You Like It, put on by Stage Door Productions in Fredericksburg, VA. The actor portraying Jacques did a wonderful job with “The Seven Ages of Man” in Act Two, Scene 7, lingering in his description of the stages that many endure throughout their lives. Like many others, I have always been struck by Shakespeare’s parallelism of the first and final age of man: “the infant mewing and puking in the nurse’s arms” and the “second childishness and mere oblivion” of older age (2.7.147, 167). As a society, we do a pretty good job making sure to take proper care of the infant who we understand is weak and in regular need of help and affection. Sadly, we are not even adequate when it comes to the care of those in the “second childishness” of life, forgetting that toward the end of our lives that we need the same amount of help and affection as newborn babies.
Over the last year, my husband and I have felt the need to help my aging parents in Colorado. My family and I have lived on the East Coast for about fifteen years, making a trip out to my parents very difficult due to time constraints and available finances. My husband and I made it to Colorado in two days last summer, but we are aging along with everyone else, and fifteen hour days in a car just aren’t as fun as they were in our early twenties. After much prayer, we packed up all of our things and moved to Colorado a few weeks ago, hoping that we could be of some help to my parents who are in need of more regular help from family.
To be honest, we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into, which I think is a concern for many middle-aged people wanting to help their aging parents. This isn’t something we learned about in school. There aren’t many classes or workshops on how to be available for those who are trying to balance doctor’s appointments, and grocery shopping, and housekeeping. I guess we just forget how important it is to be dependent on someone else. And I guess we want to believe that our parents are never going to get older, and they will enter into the final age of man with little struggle or pain.
The harsh reality is that this age of man is one of the most difficult, for the person in this stage of life and also for those who want to come alongside and help. I do not want to minimize anyone’s personal experience with aging. I do not want to pretend that I know what is best for anyone in this situation. I just want to be open to the process so that I can help my parents the best that I am able. There have been tears and some hard words that probably shouldn’t have been spoken. However, sometimes to get down to the real need, we have to be willing to face some difficult realities. Sometimes these difficulties might be past hurts. Sometimes these difficulties are current expectations. And many times these difficulties are fears and anxieties about what is next.
We don’t know what we are doing. We don’t always know how we can help. But we are here because at this stage in our life, we can be. This sacrifice that our family is making is one that many people are experiencing today because in this life, relationships are what matter. Connections with others are eternal. I hope that for now, my family and I can provide the help that my parents need and to give them some sense of peace and comfort in this final age of man.
Be encouraged to love in a way that might hurt at times. Be encouraged today to say, “I’m not going anywhere.” Be encouraged to accept that you don’t know all the answers. And be encouraged to just be available for those in need, especially your aging loved ones.