Nurturing Elders and Others:
Threshold Decisions Nearly Every Day

By the Rev. Paul Graves

In late June, I wrote my monthly faith-and-values column for the Spokesman-Review on “Threshold Decisions”. As I’ve done 3-4 times a year for the last 18 years, I wrote the column as a letter to our grandchildren. This occasion was about 18-year-old Katie’s high school graduation.

I want to spend some time with you as well reflecting on “threshold decisions”. My keen interest in this topic was actually inspired by our young cat, Sox.

One day some weeks ago, I took a photo of him sitting on the threshold between our family room and the deck, door ajar. He seemed to be considering “should I go out or stay in?” We’ve had cats in our home since 1969, so I’m aware that Sox was simply being, well, a cat.

But he prompted my imagination to focus on a few threshold decisions we make during our lifetimes. Older adults face many, don’t we!

So many decisions arise from health concerns. Others sap our energy because of in-family tensions that show little sign of resolution. Still others freeze us on the threshold because of spiritual inertia or paralysis (these can be different).

Over the last 10+ years, I’ve led a workshop I call “Navigating the Elder Maze.” In those hours spent together, we look at many of the seemingly countless decisions we are called to make over the retirement years we foolishly thought would be care-free.

There’s no such thing as “care-free” if we have any pulse and any sense of compassion for ourselves and others. That is why the keys to open the doors in the Elder Maze are: 1) plan ahead! and 2) practice respect for yourself and others.

What are the health decisions (including funeral plans) you have already made? Oh, you haven’t made them yet? Do you know why?

What health decisions have you already needed to make? What made them “easier” to make? What made them difficult to make?

One of my guides about working with older adults has been Dr. Bill Thomas, who wrote “What Are Old People For?” For Thomas, one of the tasks of elders is peacemaking — within oneself, within one’s family, and within the world. I strongly agree.

I’ve seen so many families stressed to the point where simple medical decisions become derailed because of exaggerated control efforts or playing out a sibling rivalry, or…(choose your own experience). Peacemaking within families makes critical health decisions much easier.

I also see persons sitting on a threshold — wondering what to do about their lives — because somewhere along the line they were conditioned to believe they had little worth, or they believed in some form of God that Jesus certainly didn’t represent.

When I was a geriatric social worker, a doctor who respected me also as a pastor asked me to visit one of his patients. She was deeply fearful of her impending death. She and I had spoken before, so I knew she was also a deeply religious person.

But her image of God was very judgmental and punitive when people didn’t follow a strict code of conduct and moral uprightness. She was frightened to meet that God.

I didn’t sense my sharing a loving God with her got through. I want to believe her post-death surprise would have been a sight to behold!

There are almost countless threshold decisions we need to consider in our older years. Which directions should I go? Should I step out alone, even if I don’t want to be alone?

We can sit on the threshold only so long, folks. Go for the healthiest decision you can!

The Rev. Paul Graves serves as the chair for the Conference Council on Older Adult Ministries for the PNWUMC.

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