The Hoary Head

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how elderly people are treated in our society. I guess it’s the fact that I accompanied my dad on much of a three-week rehab stay that was housed in a wing of a healthcare center. A healthcare center is what we used to call a nursing home. Some of the things I saw there made me very sad. There were some of the patients in the home who never had visitors. There were some whose children came by once a week on their way to the restaurant on Saturday mornings. There were some residents who waited for long periods for someone to come and clean soiled bed linens and there were others who just sat in front of the daytime television (and you know that can’t be wholesome) for hours-on-end each day. There were friendly people to provide bingo and ice cream day and “exercise,” but, unless the resident actually had a family advocate, the opportunities for interaction with people and fun activities were pretty limited. It almost made me feel bad that my dad was inundated with visitors, had 100 plus cards on the wall and more interaction with family than he probably ever wanted.

Lots of lessons come to mind. I’m really glad that I have a family advocate, an older Brother who goes before the Supreme Caregiver in my behalf with my every need. It’s also obvious that the sick people who had constant interaction with well people got lots better, lots faster than those who were on their own. This, of course, is true of spiritually sick people. We just get lots better when we spend time with those who are spiritually mature (Gal 6:1).

But the main thing I’m learning, as I observe elderly people more, is that we, as a society do not always adequately honor the elderly among us. I certainly am guilty of this. Sometimes we fail to apply the golden rule in their treatment. Sometimes we are just so busy that it’s easier for us to place our elderly loved ones in the care of others, who are unrelated to them and can’t possibly care for them in the same way as loving family members can. (I realize that sometimes it’s impossible for families to provide thorough and adequate care.) Sometimes we get frustrated with their slowness of mind or body and sometimes we avoid them because they can’t hear or understand us well. Sometimes, we are self-centered.

Also symptomatic of the growing lack of respect in society are the common financial predators who target those who are elderly and live alone. My father is just one elderly man, but the abuses that have come his way in recent years have been multiple. Like the man who kept coming back to cut trees for my dad for pay. His scam was to call my dad pretending he was the power company and inform Dad that he needed to cut back some trees so that they would be safely out of the area of power lines. The trees in question were nowhere near a road and could not have even been seen by those passing the property. Then the man would come out and ask Dad if the power company had called to ask him to have some trees cut. Sure enough, when we checked with the power company, they had not and do not call to inform people of trees that need to be cut. We now believe this man also poisoned a huge tree and later come back to see if he could cut and remove the dead branches. It was a perfectly healthy oak tree until just before this man made his first appearance at Dad’s to ask if he wanted him to cut this tree– a tree that was completely hidden from the road. One day after being paid by my dad for cutting some branches, this man sat down on a chair on my dad’s porch. The chair broke and the man immediately began to talk about the extreme pain in his leg. He hopped away and then began to call and say he was going to have to have money for a doctor to x-ray that leg that was “just killing” him. But as soon as Dad tried to get his name and information so he could file the incident on his homeowner’s insurance, the man said he would just “give it a little time and see if it get’s better.” We never knew the man’s name.

Then there was the woman who kept coming to my dad’s door in dire need of money to help with her car repairs. The thing is, I’m not sure she even owned a car. She “borrowed” a little money and battery jumper cables and incessantly called to ask for a little more and a little more. She called my dad by his first name and acted as if they were old friends when she first came, though none of us had a clue who she was. When we tried to trace subsequent calls and identify her, we found that the calls were from a pay phone at a Shell station.

The most recent scam was a man who called claiming to be my brother, Dad’s son. He said he was sick and had incurred medical expenses and really needed two hundred-fifteen dollars. Dad kept hanging up the phone because it just did not sound like my brother’s voice. The man just continued to call back and explained, “I don’t sound like myself because I have had a really bad case of laryngitis. But if you can please let me borrow the money I can have somebody come by and pick it up for me.” Thankfully, Daddy did not fall for this despicable lie. Although I had already spoken to my brother that same day, we quickly called him again to ascertain that he was still well. I later called the police to report this persistent caller and found that Dad was the fifth one in that small rural police district who had experienced this same ploy in recent days. Three of the elderly victims had refused to believe the caller. One had, unfortunately, placed the money in her mailbox to be delivered to her “ailing son” in Florida.

A scam artist, of any stripe, must lead a miserable life. Surely he must be driven by tragic addictions to stoop to dealing in deception for profit. But how can anyone do it to those who can remember a time in our country and whose levels of trust were formed in an America in which all the people in a given rural community knew and trusted one another? How can they get their hearts’ permission to do it to those who are on fixed and very limited incomes? How can they do it to those who have spent their lives working hard to provide for their families, given back to their churches and communities and, in many cases, spent portions of their lives in military service to insure the freedoms that the con artists are enjoying? It’s just scraping the bottom of the barrel, morally speaking.

God has no patience with those who would take advantage of the elderly. Hear his command to israel In Leviticus 19:32:

Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honor the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD.

…And again, from the Proverbs:

The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness (16:11).

…And then there’s the somewhat puzzling, but emphatic punishment of the children who made fun of the bald-headed Elisha in II Kings two.

Rehoboam failed to listen and learn from the older men in I Kings 12. Jacob took advantage of his aged father’s failing eyesight in Genesis 27. The sons of Jacob, in turn, tricked him when he was old (Genesis 37). The sons of Belial (Benjamites) took advantage of the old hospitable man and his guest in Judges 19. Eli’s sons disrespected him when he was old (I Samuel 2) and Samuel’s sons did the same in First Samuel 8. Even the aging apostle Paul was forsaken by many who should have stood with him (II Timothy 4). None of these situations turned out well for those who spurned, forsook or abused the elderly people of God.

As much as I would hate to be an elderly person and be abused by a young person devoid of conscience, I’d rather be the abused than the abuser. What a miserable life in the here-and-now and what a fearful thing to face God in the judgment having mistreated the hoary-headed saint!

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