Aging Parents: “Time Takes All But Memories”

Can the elderly be sustained by memories?

 I came across a speech excerpted from a 1965 memorial service. A sun-dial inscribed “Time Takes All But Memories” inspired a sermon (in part below) making me wonder: What’s it like for the isolated elderly? Do they have only memories?

“What is true for the dead, is equally true for the living. When there is no one to think of us, no one to care for us–even though we be alive, is it not as though we are dead? To be sure, I am not speaking of mere physical survival, for a man might breathe and eat and pump blood for 969 years like the legendary Methuselah in the Bible–but who wants to live if he has no one who loves him, no one who cares for him, no one who remembers him? Total, perpetual endless loneliness is, I daresay, even worse than death itself.”

Old people must work hard to maintain relationships. We know loneliness is an issue for them. Contemporaries move away; many die; others are incapacitated. There are those who can’t “get out” because they no longer drive and public transportation isn’t easily available. And while pets can fill a void, personality and needs must be carefully and thoughtfully weighed before placing additional responsibility on an elderly person.

So that leaves only memories–and usIDEAS–

If we’re already burdened with responsibilities (caregiving, work, child-rearing), we can only do what we can do. On the other hand, a quick note (snail-mailed), every week if we can manage, translates: someone remembers…someone cares.

A faxed note can carry the same message, can be easily sent more often and can be more time-efficient (although not quite as nice). Inquiring at a nursing home and/or assisted living facility whether a fax will be accepted for someone living there, can offer that possibility. There’s also paw paw mail (click “Blogs and Sites I Like” tab above). And there’s always a phone call, which elders say is so welcome and next best to a visit. It may come down to the amount of time we have.

Indeed,  if we have time, what about outings for those who are able?

2 Examples

First: Two cousins in their 70’s made plans to get their mothers (sisters in their 90’s, living about 2 hours apart in Oregon) together.They hadn’t seen each other in two years. Click “Related” link below.  Next: Since her mother’s death 5 years ago, an energetic daughter has regularly contacted her dad’s friends and invited them to have lunch with her and her dad (now 95).

We were away for his birthday celebration this year. She emailed us immediately after his birthday party that “we were missed,” and included several dates to join them for a future lunch. She says she tries to plan something for her dad (dr.’s appointments count) for most days of the week. Although in a wheelchair, he’s has an active life

Skype also enriches many elderly lives. By the time we’re old there will no doubt be even better technology to keep us connected and thus, help ward off loneliness. In the meantime for today’s elders who fall into the “lonely, isolated” category and don’t use a computer, it seems the old-fashioned ways of showing we care are the best we have–and give elders something to think about–in addition to memories.

RELATED: “Dementia, Mobility-Challenged, 90 year-old Sisters Meet After Two Years for a Summer Outing”

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and respected professionals, plus practical information–to help parents age well.

Aging Parents–Mothers. Eavesdropping on a Conversation With Implications for the Holidays

Two older women sat at the table next to us, having dinner at a nice NYC restaurant the other night. Both were well into their 80’s according to the conversation my husband and I couldn’t help but overhear. (OK. My excuse for eavesdropping).

These independent, with-it widows have travelled, had busy lives, and live nicely but carefully. I want to share major themes of their conversation. They’re not only applicable to many elderly women, but also give us insights we might not otherwise have. The themes: getting around, security, and isolation–seem interdependent for aging parents.

Getting Around (mobility/transportation) and Security

Transportation–getting around….taking buses or taxis…taxis especially at night because of security–occupied their conversation for some time. For example, they didn’t want to chance walking blocks, possibly void of people, in the dark. “A slow-walking old lady isn’t safe alone,” the woman with mobility issues interjected as they discussed taking the more expensive taxi home at night. Taking the bus, for one woman, entailed having to walk an additional block to her apartment.

The problems posed by lack of certain transportation resulted in having to forgo, for example, attending a friend’s funeral in a suburban community. A discussion ensued about the deceased family’s understanding the transportation problem that prevented their attending.

One woman had hired a driver to take her to a funeral a few years ago, but it was very costly. Their concluding thoughts on the subject: they’d been regularly visiting a very ill friend up until this friend’s death…and that’s what’s important…not attendance at the funeral.

They agreed lack of energy affected how they spend their time. One evidently always gave large parties, but no longer. Decreased energy and the fact that it takes longer to do things prevent her from even thinking about attempting a small party now. Her friend talked about those past wonderful parties.

This led to the topic of Christmas eve , but it could just as well have been Christmas day or New Year’s eve or New Years day. One asked: “What are you doing Christmas eve?” The immediate response “nothing–what about you?” Response: “Nothing,” followed by “do you want to do something?…let’s get together.” Response: “Yes…..”


 My husband (with no counseling background other than being married to me) noted: “They’re (the women) like individual islands.” In counseling we talk about the “isolated elderly”….psychological isolation, not necessarily physical. Their world shrinks. Perhaps it’s inertia. They don’t initiate social contacts.  And planning very far ahead is no longer part of their lives (unless someone else does the planning–eg. the doctor’s office). But they’re happy to do and to go when someone suggests it.

Sr. Advisor R, who’s very wise, says she learned, when widowed in her early 50’s, if she invited a woman to lunch, she was never turned down. But she was often the one to take the initiative. Otherwise, she said, she’d have no life. Yet some reciprocated and she made a life for herself.  Sadly many elderly don’t think that way. They sit…and wait.  In which case…….

An idea: Since the holidays (which we know can be a depressing time) are here, perhaps we can encourage older/elderly independent-living parents to get together with friends for one of the special days or evenings ahead. We might suggest, for example, their having Christmas eve dinner or New Years day brunch, lunch or dinner with a friend or friends.

We can collaborate with parents in deciding which friend(s) to invite along with finding a convenient restaurant if they wish. We can offer to phone our parent’s friend(s) then make the reservation. Perhaps we can even help with the transportation (after all, they carpooled us when we were children).

Our actions model caring behavior for our children. At some point in the future, we may hope our grown children will encourage and initiate for us.
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I’m now recalling New Years Day the year after Mother died. My husband and I were driving from L.A. to Dad’s condo in the desert, talking about the fact that it would have been my parents’ anniversary. We passed a shopping center…Trader Joe’s…thoughts of a small New Year’s Day reception at Dad’s to watch whatever Bowl game was on and liven things up. We quickly took the next off-ramp, bought frozen appetizers, an insulated bag, snacks, paper plates. Then back on the freeway.

Dad (age 91) warmed to the idea of having people in–even on a moment’s notice. (We’d do/done the major work.) And a few hours later we had 10 old people (no one declined) who enjoyed themselves–one even brought beautiful fruit from a large gift-box she assured us she could never finish by herself.

Connections with others is one of the three main factors in aging well, as we know. That said, does the  holiday season need to be depressing for independent-living,  isolated-feeling old people or can we make it another opportunity to help parents age well.