Spiritual Lessons in Caring for the Elderly

Last February, a fall and the subsequent onset of dementia in Larry’s mother has given us, in addition to sadness and stress, some spiritual lessons to ponder. I noticed that many of Larry’s mom’s core qualities were still present despite the loss of much cognitive awareness. What she valued in her life was still present. Her kindness towards others and enjoyment of people were evident. She was always out of her room watching others and commenting from her limited vocabulary on how they were. She was a dancer on Broadway before marrying and I was startled to hear her say He’s much better than she about a couple who was demonstrating types of dances to the dementia patients–and she was right! That love and knowledge of dance was still there. Much of her life was spent traveling with Larry’s father and after his death, with Larry’s stepfather. For a while after being admitted to the facility, she thought she was in a hotel and the nurses’ station was a bar! It’s as if the deep grooves made in the psyche from repeated use remain.

This caused me to ask what am I putting my time and effort into that would have a significant enough impact on my psyche to remain after much else was gone. It’s sobering to think that so much of what we consider important in life, so many daily activities are not what we want to remain with us. Added to this are the many worried, anxious, and fearful thoughts that can dominate our days. I observed one woman in the facility’s beauty parlor who was afraid to have her nails cut. Even before this incident, I could see much terror in her eyes. By contrast, there was another woman who didn’t speak much but had a wonderful presence. I would walk into a room filled with people and my eyes would go immediately to her. She seemed to radiate magnetism. I wondered if she practiced meditation in her life.

The spiritual lesson of surrender surfaced when working with Larry’s stepfather. So many older people pride themselves on their independence. Out of true concern for others, they do not want to be a burden. This problem is that their insistence on independence is often more of a burden in terms of worry and possible danger. Again I asked myself, will I be willing to surrender driving a car, living independently, or making decisions about my life that I no longer understand. Hopefully the present spiritual practice of surrendering to the divine will at each moment of my life will prepare me for such challenges when and if the time comes.

The esoteric teachings state that there is a turning point at age 49. Either the person is ready to step into a more spiritual life, i.e. to a further unfolding of their soul’s calling and to an opening of the third eye or they keep the old ways and gradually decline as a result. I derive hope from seeing many spiritual elders that are vibrant and active into their late 80′s. Even Ram Das who suffered from a stroke is still very active.

We are presently preparing for our future life. What grooves are we placing in our psyches? Are they the ones we want? How willingly do we surrender in our daily life to the greater plan? Are we working with our chakras and energy fields? These are the questions that caring for the elderly have brought to me.