Guest Post:Seeing it Through Without Exemption

August 13, 2007    By: Matt W. @ 10:21 am   Category: Life

Mondo Cool, or Walt Cowart, is my Father in Law. He is a great man, with a great lineage. Anyway, I asked him, on a whim, if he had a post he’d like to put forth. He did.

My father is an old man. I do not say that disrespectfully, but matter-of-factly. He recently retired after 50+ years of practicing medicine. Truly, he is a unique example of service to his fellow beings. He converted to the Church over 40 years ago and has also been an exemplar of service to God. He was a child of the Depression; an onlooker of WWII, Korea, and Viet Nam; and a concerned observer of the societal change of most of the past eight decades. Genetics, however, has been his toughest challenge. His health has been mainly determined by a predisposition towards hypercholesterolemia which has affected his heart, and now his brain. The father I have known as a Lion of the Lord is now, because of health conditions, feeble – physically, mentally, and emotionally.

This, of course, is hard on me. And, it has intensified my thoughts about the purpose of aging. I, after all, am not getting any younger. I think we all wish we, and our loved ones, could be vibrant until the very end of our mortal probations, much like Pres. Faust. But for many, that is not the option.

What are your thoughts on the lessons to be learned by these final years? We all have challenges throughout our lives, but what, in particular, is the “purpose” of old age; or, what does old age teach us that the rest of life does not? Is it just part of the package or does it have special significance in our earthly sojourn? How does this phase of life, in particular, relate to our salvation? How should we prepare to care for our elder families and church members? What are the things we are doing to prepare ourselves for the “twilight years?”

9 Comments »

  1. I have recently been thinking a lot about Hierarchy in the church, and in a way, I think aging is a lesson of sorts in regards to Hierarchy. I said in another post that the Hierarchy of Hell seems to be a sort of eternal conflict for 1st in the pecking order, or even a contest of survival of the fittest. I believe the Hierarchy of Heaven is otherwise, perhaps to the point I am not even sure Hierarchy is the appropriate word. Anyway, this relates to your Father in that, to me, he as always exemplified the all-powerful patriarch, the one above all, and not be any form of unrighteous dominion, but by the benefit of being who he was and having the credentials (spiritually and emotionally speaking) to be that one. As his health declines, we have the opportunity to honor who he is, rather than what he can do. Further, we are invited, I believe, to step up and finally take that impossible leap into being his equal, after a fashion. Our relationship with our Father in Heaven and with Christ does not mirror that physical decline, but it does mirror that invitation.

    Comment by Matt W. — August 13, 2007 @ 10:35 am

  2. I’m not sure what the lessons are; but, as the final years are lengthened and attenuated with modern medicine, we have more time to figure out what they are.

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 13, 2007 @ 12:18 pm

  3. I sometimes wonder if old age is a way of having things come full circle, but with knowledge and experience. When we are born we are innocent and completely dependent on others. Many of us may pick up some pride along the way as we become more self suficient and reliant. As old age sets in, many of us will begin to be dependent on others for a time. It can be a very humbling time I suspect.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — August 13, 2007 @ 2:15 pm

  4. My father is dying of Parkinson’s. The decline has been rapid over the past two months, with dementia and being bed bound replacing someone who was able to give stirring sacrament talks and mow his own yard.

    The pain twists the dementia into terrible shapes for him.

    It is very hard.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — August 14, 2007 @ 5:43 am

  5. Honestly, I would rather not grow old. I see people with walkers or rascals, or with some other infirmity and I think I’d rather be off with my reward long before that sets in. And I know that is a terrible thing. Because, IMHO, the reason the infirm, the sick, the mentally challenged were put among us is for God to give us a chance to grow in our compassion and understanding… a vital component for the enlightenment we hope to achieve in the next world.

    Comment by V the K — August 14, 2007 @ 6:51 am

  6. I appreciate the responses that have come in on this. But, now I’m wondering if the paucity of comments is because this post is about a topic that the average reader of NCT has not really encountered (demographics?), or something you have not wanted to encounter, or what.

    It is a truly unique time in my life, in my new role towards my Dad, to be encouraging and nurturing and, at the same time, to still be the beneficiary of his experience and wisdom. And, selfishly, I was hoping for your insight in order to do a better job.

    Comment by Mondo Cool — August 17, 2007 @ 12:19 pm

  7. I am young and my father has not gone through this phase of life either, so I don’t have any first hand experience.

    My suspicion is that there is no unique “purpose” to old age, any more than there is a unique purpose to cancer or housefire or middle-age. Of course, someone might disagree with me on all counts and find some special purpose in any or all of those things. I am on record as being strongly opposed to the idea that there is a purpose in everything that happens.

    However, I do think that all kinds of different trials stretch us and challenge us. I think that God can help us grow and progress through nearly anything that happens to us. In a general sense, the trails of our mortal experience can be said to have a purpose. So I would say it is “part of the package” as it was phrased in the post. But when we talk about God bringing something good out of the bad things that happen, I think of that as God’s purpose, not the purpose of those bad things. I suspect debilitating old age is just another bad thing, but then, I haven’t been through it or close to it, so…

    Comment by Jacob J — August 18, 2007 @ 10:08 am

  8. And, selfishly, I was hoping for your insight in order to do a better job.

    Okay, since you asked.

    I think that among many LDS there is an unhealthy attachment to extending human life at any cost. The fact is that a lot of elderly may be cheating death, but they don’t have a great quality of life, they are a burden to those tasked to care for them, and there is something to be said for going out in style.

    I don’t think we’re particularly blessed in caring for the elderly, any more than we are blessed in helping for any other horrible situation. And sorry, but I can’t learn anything from an elderly person who is no longer cogent and able to remember or articulate much. Let’s not glorify the situation.

    In the case of my own father, a young medical resident refused to comply with a “do not resuscitate” order that had been carefully considered and executed with agreement of all family members and good legal counsel. I can’t even describe what I think of the arrogance of that young man, to assume he knew better than my family what was best for our patriarch.

    A few years ago, there was a widow in my ward who needed a triple bypass, and chose not to undergo the surgery, instead deciding to let go of her life. She was in her 80s, had enjoyed her life and no need to prolong her time away from her husband. Plus, she had watched him die in a nursing home from a disease that caused dementia and wasting, and to her the prospect of dying in a few months with her wits about her was far more appealing.

    Some folks might have thought that she was committing suicide by refusing a medical intervention that was not outrageously “heroic.” I figure she had was doing what she felt the Lord wanted, the way she had lived the rest of her life.

    Comment by Naismith — August 19, 2007 @ 1:13 pm

  9. To clarify: This is not a case of prolonging life. This is a case of watching the vicissitudes of mortality and of role reversal. My father and I are both in agreement that too many (not just LDS, by the way) have “an unhealthy attachment to extending human life at any cost.” (We both are healthcare professionals.)

    Comment by Mondo Cool — August 19, 2007 @ 9:26 pm

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