It has taken a long time to reach this point in life. I had to pass the juncture of an octogenarian and, before that, septuagenarian, and each period took 10 years. Prior decades preceded those stages as well.
Nonagenarians make up 4.7 % of the population in the U.S. of those 65 and older. Some other words for people in my category are mature, decrepit, geriatric, long-lived, retired, aged, patriarchal/matriarchal, oldish, superannuated, over-the-hill, ancient, senescent, senile, pensioned, or quite simply, old.
The name doesn’t matter. I can remember my quinquagenarian years as well and how vigorous I felt at the time. Joice and I were in Papua New Guinea, where I was the Director of the PNG Branch of Wycliffe and SIL. Joice was entertaining, teaching, and helping to raise our children. We couldn’t imagine (fortunately, sometimes) what would happen in the ensuing years. However, we kept diaries, wrote letters to our supporters, and took hundreds of photos to have reliable records of where we were and what we did.
Forty years ago (in 1983) Karol was about to graduate from Ukarumpa High School and would start her studies at Baylor University in the fall. Today, she is a professor at the same university, the school where she met Mike and where all three of their children have attended. And now they have a nonagenarian grandfather, and it must make them begin to feel old as well.
In many cultures, excluding most Western ones and especially our own, an old person commands respect. People with gray or white hair and standing perhaps several inches shorter than they once were, and often holding a cane, are not weeded out and put in homes. They are also not encouraged to somehow end their life and cease being a burden. Instead, they are most often well cared for by their children and loved ones.
Job said his people learned their wisdom from “gray-haired people” (15.10) and that long life “is the reward of the righteous, gray hair a glorious crown” (Proverbs 16.31). The “gray hair of age” also demanded respect in the Biblical world (Proverbs 20.29). We also have God’s promise that “I am your God and will take care of you until you are old and your hair is gray. I made you and will care for you; I will give you help and rescue you” (Isaiah 46.4).
I am sure that old people do not want to be a burden to their children, or anyone. They would like to live and die like Moses, who “was a hundred and twenty years old when he died; he was as strong as ever, and his eyesight was still good” (Deuteronomy 34.7). Of course, that usually does not happen, and David’s comment was: “Seventy years is all we have— eighty years, if we are strong; yet all they bring us is trouble and sorrow; life is soon over, and we are gone.”
We need to remember that, regardless of the number of years and our circumstances, God has determined them!
For my birthday, my son in Australia arranged a “Zoom fest,” where my children, grandchildren, and their spouses told me what they liked about me. It was humbling, and I wondered at times who they were talking about!
My Waco family also participated in the celebration and blessed and encouraged me with their words.
One of the Proverbs (30.7) records the author’s request for two things before death: 1) that he/she not lie and 2) not be either rich or poor. That is what the person seemed to want the most before death. Those are two excellent thoughts but will not be my prayers before I die. Rather, I pray that I will not “give up” and that I will “be faithful to the end of my life.”
The apostle Paul was encouraged in a vision (Acts 18.9) to “not be afraid, but keep on speaking and not give up.” As he said to the Galatians, “So let us not become tired of doing good; for if we do not give up, the time will come when we will reap the harvest.”
To help us, we need to “Think of what he [Jesus] went through; how he put up with so much hatred from sinners! So do not let yourselves become discouraged and give up” (Hebrews 12.3).
Do you have an “end of life” prayer?