If I were starting over as a young parish pastor, I would require couples wishing to marry to receive certified nurses' aid training before they speak their vows. That way when the "for worse" part of the marriage vow happens to one or the other, they would have the skills and confidence to meet the coming needs of later life. Many more of us will have chronic health care needs in the future. Preparing for this reality is prudent.
We all learn from our elders. My great-aunt said she was sickly as a child, yet she lived to an old age. In fact she outlived all her siblings and two husbands. When she was 85 she met a man who moved into the independent senior apartment across from her. He was 92. They fell in love and were married, against their children's advice, of course. Love conquers all.
I remember the two of them carrying a basket of washed clothes between them. They teetered across the lawn toward the outdoor clothesline. One held up the wet clothes to the line and the other put the clothespins on. From this I learned that it takes two to have independence in later life. With frailty and physical challenges between them, they lived for more than 10 years independently, together. At the great age of 102 her third husband died.
At 95 my great-aunt moved to a senior care facility where she lived to 97. The last time I saw her before her death she was playing games and laughing with her friends at the facility. She was having so much fun, she had little time for me. I will love her always. She and her first husband were my baptismal sponsors. More than 60 years later, she showed me how to live life fully to the end.
Chronic illnesses, accidents, falls and injuries are common in later life. We can count on it. So it's prudent to be prepared for whatever comes. Having a plan to address short- and long-term health and disability needs is sensible and wise. Is your home accessible for a wheelchair if you need one? Is the bathroom safe and accessible if you are disabled? Do you have money set aside to make home modifications if something happens? And if your spouse requires personal care for a long time, are you realistic about your circumstances and ability to provide that care at home? These issues are important if you want to live in your own home as long as possible.
Do not despair, prepare. Develop a personal "health care disaster plan." Address lifestyle issues that negatively affect your health. Nurture friendships. Live with gratitude. Prepare for challenging changes in your health. Through it all, practice trust in God.
As we prepare for "the worst," it's good to celebrate the opportunities we have for loving and caring for each other in later life. Remember, it takes at least two to have security and independence. Find somebody who loves you. Look out for and help each other. Expand your circle of support. In this life, it doesn't get any better than that.
© 2013 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers