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Treatment of the Elderly in Postmodern America Research Writing Alice Guinther Professor Christina Moos August 16, 2009
The most able members worked the fields. It is illustrated in the God ordained tithe written in Deuteronomy 26:12 (New American Standard. Families that worked as a unit faced a better life style by having all the members. Due to a shift in American society from Judeo-Christian ethics to today¶s postmodernism the elderly are viewed as non-productive members of society and therefore without value. no matter the age. that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied. God made it very clear through the Mosaic laws that care should be shown to ³widows. This is a reminder to God¶s people to care for the needy because they have value as human beings. and little value is placed on interdependence. productivity is the only measure of worth. others cooked and cleaned. The loss of interdependency creates a climate of self reliance and loss of value in helping others in need. In ancient Israel. work together.Treatment of the Elderly in Postmodern America 2 There is a separation between people in America today. Looking back in history to society¶s early roots. The Law mandated care for the wondering poor who had no land to farm. As a culture. with . distance has been imposed between differing age groups. The main value of our culture is on a lifestyle of independence within our communities. orphans and strangers´. the year of tithing. the extended family group was vitally important for the survival of the family line. to the stranger. then you shall give it to the Levite. strength and personal achievement.´ Notice here that the seemingly non-productive members of society were to ³«eat«and be satisfied´. to the orphan and to the widow. When the pinnacle of life is youth. and finally the oldest members that were not strong enough to work in the fields provided for child care of the youngest members of the household. The level of support points to care for non-productive members of society that included the elderly. 1977) ³When you have finished paying all the tithe of your increase in the third year.
more elderly were unable to support themselves. change began in society. Then. In the book. Susannah Ottaway states in her book. due to an economic downturn. people were expected to save for their ³evening days. but the parish church was expected to pick up the slack in elderly support when the families could not afford. The Decline of Life: Old Age in Eighteenth-Century England (2004). however. and ultimately God receives the glory. These people were relegated to ³work houses´ for the poor-. In America prior and post Industrial Revolution there still was an emphasis on the extended family well into the twentieth century. or did not want to support an elderly family member. there still was the church support of the poor and aged. Yes. As Ottaway writes. God blesses His people so that they can be a blessing to others. Later in the Eighteenth century in England. So it seems that the loss of value of the elderly in England started before the twentieth century.stigmatized and shunned as indigent.Treatment of the Elderly in Postmodern America 3 out restrictions on whether they are productive. but a rising tide of sentiment was beginning as people were seeing the poor and aged as burdens on society. As the culture started the shift from an agrarian society to an industrialized one during the Industrial Revolution. as today. There were ³poor laws´ on the books as early as the 1760¶s in England that required families to be responsible for the support of their aged parents. ³«It seems that in important ways the deterioration in the condition of the elderly poor in the eighteenth century can be seen to have set the stage for our modern conception of the elderly as a group that is a burden to society´ (p 12). Ageism. that with industrialization came a change in attitude. the Aged and Aging in .´ and the elder members were expected to stay within the family home to help earn their keep with child care and household chores.
The legacy would pass to the next generation with the parents remaining in the house to help run the farm in exchange for security in their decline. Doctors Rowe and Kahn write in their book. and so their measure of success in life was found by working hard for status and ³things´. the succeeding generations were raised in contact with the elderly. Successful Aging (1998). So as society began to embrace a postmodern outlook. Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer writes in his book. the older generation owned the farm and as an early inheritance would pass the ownership to the adult children. and meaning was found in status and obtaining physical possession. As society moved forward into the twentieth century and entered into the turbulent 1960¶s. As these youth grew older. productivity is the only measure of value. a new phenomenon began-. . that the searching youth began exploring the mysticism in their own heads through taking drugs to find some meaning. that now in this society the measurement of productivity is a paying job. the newly married children would move into the family house to get their start in life and take care of the aged parents. The youth of this time searched alternative religions and looked for new meaning in life by exploring the philosophy of relativism and creating their own moral code. As generations then moved into the suburbs.Treatment of the Elderly in Postmodern America 4 America. write about the continuance of the extended family. Because of this. their only fulfillment was found in the material world. They point out from a strictly monetary point of view. (1997) the husband and wife educators. and children had a healthy understanding of the natural decline with old age.a search to ³find´ one¶s self. He is There and He is Not Silent (1982). There was interdependency between the generations. Ursula and Gerhard Falk. The Christian Bible as a source of knowledge was discredited. The elderly are no longer seen as a needed addition to the family unit. again to take possession of the home as an early inheritance.
and at the time was 97 years old. but the most heartbreaking and memorable moment was seeing an elderly woman. The initial discomfort changed to fascination at the reminiscences shared from the era before motorized vehicles. the experience was strange but valuable. ³Pop-pop´ was a great. Pipher also writes that nothing in our culture is positive towards aging. So to keep the elderly well cared for and then separated. suffering from the end stages of cancer and heavily medicated for pain. they entered communities just for retirees. We put our three-year-olds together. the elderly become un-needed and ³«they fade away graciously. Mary Pipher writes in her book. ³We group our people by age. In a personal example. The author¶s initial lessons were in a skilled-care nursing home. All our industries and advertising is aimed towards glorifying the young. and work.Treatment of the Elderly in Postmodern America 5 With productivity now determining the measure of worth. the author had just entered nursing school where the first lesson was in geriatric nursing. and excitement. There was a frustration from an inability to spend time with the elderly residence.´ (p 54) But the elderly themselves learn to not bother the young people as a part of the unwritten rules of American society today. breathing in the labored breath of what is known as . and even the elderly parents themselves saw their own lives after retirement as burdensome to their children. As a young adult. and our eighty-year-olds together. the older generation began to be viewed as a burden. The thinking is that the elderly keep the young from fun. With a consumer society of planned obsolescence. the author as a young child was taken to visit ³pop-pop´ in the nursing home with her father. great uncle. [And that] children and teenagers can go months at a time with no contact with the old´ (p 18). Another Country (1999) how in America. our thirteen-year-olds together. Thus the elderly see themselves as phased out. For a youngster in a nursing home.
³«to the extent you did it to one of these brothers of Mine. people do not have to face the fact that they too are aging and will someday be phased out and put aside as un-needed. to lose one¶s value with retirement is to have to face a futility of life.P. and feelings of insignificance. you did it to Me. Ministries frequently focus on attracting youth. even the least of them. Jesus¶ words in Matthew 25:40. The God Question (2009). People in society today fear the solitude of having nothing to do because they are unable to face anxiety. when we avoid the sick and dying. keeping their independence and consequently no need to burden their children. As a society people cannot slow down or sacrifice to their parents²the excuse is related to striving for independence. Moreland writes in his book. The parents should have had the foresight to save for themselves. people keep themselves so busy and frantic because they are afraid to slow down and be quiet. With the discrediting of the teaching of Christ in the 1960¶s and the rise of postmodernism. when we fuss over young visitors with children but offer only polite handshakes to the elderly couples.´ are meaningless.Treatment of the Elderly in Postmodern America 6 ³cheney-stoaks´ breathing (end of life breathing)--totally alone with no one to hold her hand. By ignoring the elderly. (p 2) . If productivity is society¶s main goal. People are afraid of their own pain and to face their own loneliness. Productive (working) adults can only see the elderly as a burden on society. She died the next day. Yet even in the church there is an emphasis on the young. As philosopher J. and young married adults with children in hopes that this will showcase how relevant the church is today. the editor points out a lack of care of the elderly where it is stated: We disparage the elderly when we let our media focus nearly exclusively on the young. when visitation of nursing homes is replaced with more exciting mercy activities. As people franticly keeps themselves busy there is no sense of responsibility to one¶s aging parents. But in an editorial in Christianity Today entitled ³Go Gently into that Good Night´ (2007).
although He existed in the form of God. To offer comfort and prayer in a person¶s final days so they will not die alone. Some ideas to help on a grass-roots level would be to start a program in elementary school for frequent trips to local nursing homes to allow classes to meet and talk with the residents. ³Have this attitude [mind] in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus. As it is written in Philippians 2:5-7. Finally. did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped. who. Humanity must never forget that if they live their lives according to the way God made all humans to flourish. they need to serve others. Professor Emeritus of Pastoral Care and Christian Ethics at Denver Seminary. the challenge for people with the special calling of the ministry of offering end of life care by holding the hand of a dying person with no-one else to sit with them in their last days. additional ministries can be developed to involve adults and youth in regular visits to skilled care nursing homes to be ³compassionate listeners´. Vernon Grounds PhD. that to be truly satisfied with life. This also would build up the residents to give them some meaning and reduce the feeling of isolation. writes in a essay included in the book Aging.Treatment of the Elderly in Postmodern America 7 Even in worship is a tension between the new ³hip´ worship songs and the ³old´ hymns. Also within the church. but emptied Himself. allowing the older members the chance to share their spiritual experiences with the younger generations (p 13). Why is there the loss of accommodation to the older members of the congregation? Couldn¶t the addition of a few of the ³classics´ provide a more balanced mix of songs that bring comfort to the older members? Also churches can take advantage of the older member¶s years of walking with the Lord. Death. to allow the children vital contact with the older generation. and the Quest for Immortality (2004) some suggestions for allowing the older members of the congregation to share in what he terms ³a ministry of informal teaching´. taking the form of a bond-servant [slave]. and being made in .
However. even in the time of ancient Israel people had to be reminded to care for the non-productive (widows. Children were not segregated from the old. people do not wish to be reminded of their mortality by having to deal with aging. Jesus said in Matthew11:29 ³Take My yoke upon you. the image of God. and learn from Me. beauty. to be as a slave to one another. and so they grew up understanding the decline of old age. most people wanted to honor God by showing compassion to the elderly. To be humble is to empty ones¶ self of striving after things and allow God¶s love to fill people with His desire for service to one another. Now. Can humanity show the compassion of Christ to others and become His ambassadors and let God make ³His appeal through us´ (2 Corinthians 5:20. being allowed to live out their days in relative comfort. The church could be the leader in re-introducing the very young to the very old and show the children and the adults that the elderly have great stories to tell and great contributions to make to succeeding generations. with our striving for youth. over the centuries there has been a gradual shift in the response to the elderly in society.Treatment of the Elderly in Postmodern America 8 the likeness of men.´ To truly be like Jesus is to serve. etc«). But are we willing to be compassionate listeners? . and status. The church in today¶s society could do much to begin to reverse this trend by starting ministries to the elderly and begin to bring forward the ³radical´ notion of compassion to the ³least of these«´ American society needs to re-emphasize the intrinsic value of all human life as made in the imago Dei. relativistic form of thinking. NAS)? As written here. and into the early twentieth century the aged parents were still thought of as valuable addition to the home. for I am gentle and humble in heart«´ (my emphasis). the elderly were seen as a burden and put aside in nursing homes or retirement communities. But with a shift in the 1960¶s to a postmodern. Yes.
And accept the stark fact that nothing can last. all too few.´ «The worn body crumbles. But inside this carcass a young girl still dwells. I think of the years. And now and again my embittered heart swells. What do you see. not very wise. Death. Aging. nurse. Who dribbles her food and makes no reply When you say in a loud voice. gone too fast. I remember the pain.see me! (p 10) An excerpt from the poem published in the book. what do you see? What are you thinking when you look at meA crabbed old woman. . So open your eyes. open and see Not a crabbed old woman. Look closer. Uncertain of habit with far away eyes. nurse. grace and vigor depart. and the Quest for Immortality (2004). There now is a stone where I once had a heart. I would like to end with excerpts of a poem shared by Dr Grounds found in the personal effects of an un-named woman who died in a home for the aged in England. ³I do wish you¶d try.Treatment of the Elderly in Postmodern America 9 Finally. And I¶m loving and living life over again. I remember the joys.
(2004). and the Quest for Immortality. Cambridge University Press.christianitytoday. New York. MI. New York. Charles C Thomas Publisher. Rowe and R.26. Eugene. Salladay. William B. Kahn (1998). NY. Pipher. Aging. Thomas Nelson Publisher. C. Harvest House Publishers. Another Country: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of our Elders. New American Standard. R. Orr. J. 2009 from http://www. M. Death. (2009). Retrieved July 4. The Decline of Life: Old Age in Eighteenth-Century England. Penguin Putnam Inc. Eerdmans Publishing Company. the Aged and Aging in America: On Being Old in an Alienated Society. NY. S. OR. (2004). Dell Publishing. Moreland. Successful Aging. IL. J. Editors. Go Gently into that Good Night. NY. Grand Rapids.com/ct/2007/january/20. NY. January. . (1977).html?start=2 Holy Bible. (1999). Ageism. (1997). editorial from Christianity Today. 2007. New York. Ottaway.Treatment of the Elderly in Postmodern America 10 References U. New York. S. Mitchell. Springfield. Falk and G. Falk. The God Question: An Invitation to a Life of Meaning.
Treatment of the Elderly in Postmodern America 11 F. Schaeffer. Tyndale House Publishers. IL. (1982). He is There and He is Not Silent. . Wheaton.
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