David lamented, The length of our days is seventy years ~ or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but
trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away (Psalm 90:10).
It seems that life begins with such promise, and youth is spent in building dreams. Then the years progress and
unexpected events change the dreams or even destroy them. Though strength of character is being built, people
begin to think more of going on to heaven and leaving this world of cares behind.
The aged apostle Paul declared after a long and hard (though fulfilling) life, I am already being poured out like a
drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have
kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award
to me on that day (2 Timothy 4:6-8a).
Those who have been privileged to live good and fulfilling lives look forward to going on to heaven. After all, that
is our entire goal, and older people are conscious of being closer to grasping that goal more than anyone else. It is
not a morbid thought to them, but a thought of delight.
The situation in nursing homes is different in several respects from that in assisted living homes. Those in
assisted-living homes are there because their arthritis is too bad, or they are afraid of falling, or they forget when to
take their blood pressure medicine, etc. But all in all they are not sick other than the usual infirmities of bodies slowing
down and becoming achy and inefficient.
Nursing homes are specifically for people needing around-the-clock nurses. Some people after a serious illness
and returning home from the hospital try to get a full-time nurse to move in with them. But that is nearly impossible.
So the only alternative is to move to a nursing home.
Most people entering nursing homes do not ever expect to get much better. A few expect to return home some
day but most do not. They just hope for sustaining their present level of strength. Most expect to eventually die there
~ whether in a matter of months or perhaps years, but at least they will have friends around them when they do.
Basically, nursing homes are extended-care hospitals.
Who do you see at nursing homes? Some are in bed all the time. Some are able to get up and be around in
wheelchairs or walkers. A few can get around without help, but must hold on to the hall railings and walk very slowly.
They all nap during the day at various times. They have various forms of ailments: stokes, heart disorders, kidney or
liver damage, cancer, advanced diabetes, advanced nervous system disorders, etc. They are not in need of a lot of
special equipment which hospitals have; they just need professional nursing in sustaining themselves in their present
state as long as possible.
If your desire is to help people in nursing homes, you will want to understand what is important to them at this
time. Some of the things mentioned in the chapter on senior boarding homes would apply to these people, depending
on how sick they are. Use your discretion. Working with people in nursing homes is different in that most of them are
chair-ridden or bed-ridden. It is harder to cheer up someone who is in bed or sits all the time with drugs in their
systems to help control pain.
However, you can encourage them to talk. Talk about their past, about their families, about things they are proud
of having accomplished in this life. Talk about your philosophy of life and find out theirs. Read the Bible to them.
Bring tape recordings of Bible reading. Sing to them. Find out what they would like to hear, and bring along a hymn
book; they don't care if you haven't memorized the songs. And they don't care how beautiful your voice is, not any
more than a child cares how its mother's is. The love is what is important. They can sit and listen to you sing for
hours. Of course you can't do that, but you can leave them tape records of hymn singing.
Have individual Bible studies with one or more. Choose topics. Just because they are older doesn't mean they
know all there is to know about the Bible. It may be all they know about is very slim. They may want to learn more
now. Find out what topics they wish to look up, get yourself a concordance listing these topics, then look up all the
scriptures you can find on the subject. If they don't have a preference at first, you choose one, and then they will as
Some topics of interest might be the life of Joseph, the life of Solomon, the life of Christ. Also the conversion to
Christianity of Simon the Sorcerer, the Ethiopian treasurer, the future apostles Paul, the Roman centurion Cornelius,
Lydia a business woman (ACTS 8-10, 16, 22). Also the books of Proverbs, what heaven looks like, who were Jesus'
relatives, the mercies of God, forgiveness, courage, getting along, etc.
For those in both nursing homes and boarding homes, don't forget their birthdays. Bring a cake if they can have
one, and baked with sugar substitute if possible. If they can't eat cake, bring a fancy gelatin mold and put candles on
it. Have a little party, whether with two people or twenty people. Have relatives there or their friends or your friends.
Sing. Take pictures. Bring along gifts. What can they use?
Skin softener, handkerchief, head scarf, lap robe, shawl, pajamas, wind chimes, picture, stationery with stamps,
supplies for hand work, perfume or after-shave lotion, clothing, jewelry, jewelry box, a Bible in large print, a magnifying
glass, a tape of gospel or secular songs, a tape of the Bible, a game of checkers, a pen, a plant, hair oil, shampoo,
artificial flowers, a colorful rug, a bedspread, nylons, socks, a large-print book, a magazine subscription, fancy clothes
hangers, slippers, vase, picture frame, inexpensive camera, photo album, fancy cane handle, 100-piece puzzle, view
master, harmonica, songbook, knitting needles and yarn, hand cream, comb and brush, shoe shine equipment,
long-handled shoe horn, lap board or tray, personal papers box, boxes of greeting cards, reproductions of old family
Worship services are very important to people in nursing homes. Try to arrange to have a group of young
people (or any age) come and hold services for/with them. Not all will come, but a majority will. Even if they are bed
ridden 90% of the time, they will try to come. They will request that a nurses aide put them in a wheel chair and roll
them down the hall to the service. It needn't be long, but it should include all the "elements" of worship: Singing,
praying, giving, partaking of the communion, and listening to a short sermon. You may choose to sit next to someone
with arthritic hands who cannot hold a song book or a communion cup. Help them as the need arises, and reach over
and hold their hand during the sermon or a prayer.
No matter what you do with these people in nursing homes, probably the most important thing on their minds is
dying. This is normal, considering their age and physical condition. You should let them talk about it if and whenever
they wish. Often their own family may be so emotionally involved they cannot talk to them about it.
Help them with this. If you suspected you were going to die within the next six months or a year, wouldn't you want
to talk to someone about it? Who wants to go through such an experience alone and without anyone to talk to about
it? In order to help them during this time, let us consider what the older person's view of dying is.
Elderly people are usually not afraid of death. About the only source of anxiety is that they have never died
before and it is a first-time experience. That is scary. However, all in all they look forward to it, for they are often
lonely in this world. The family they grew up with and most of their old friends are now gone. They want to be with
them again. This is an extremely strong feeling - an instinct perhaps - that younger people do not quite understand.
As their body fails to function as it used to in youth, this desire grows also.
They read parts in the Bible describing heaven, or they recall them by memory. What are their thoughts of? They
are of a great white throne with a crystal lake in front, and a ruby luster around it with a beautiful emerald rainbow
above. They are of gates of pearl, foundation stones of a dozen precious stones, walls of diamond, streets of gold,
and many mansions. They are of the tree of life growing on both sides of the river of life. They are of Jesus,the Way
and Truth and Life. They are of living a glorious eternity with no pain, no tears, and no growing old (John 14:1,
Revelation 4, 21, 22).
Indeed, their thoughts of death are not sad thoughts. The more we understand this, the more we will want to be
with these people as they prepare for their journey to their permanent home. Their courage will give us courage.
Often they make up their own mind when it is time to die and rejoin family and friends who have left them behind.
Examine any birth and death records, and you will see that deaths of older people who are relatively inactive come
over half the time within thirty days of their birthday. Apparently they begin thinking about it and wondering what
benefit there would be to live another year. Recall all the times you have heard someone say, "And s/he just turned
85 two weeks before," or "If s/he had only lived one more month, they would have been 90." Think about it.
You have heard many times how someone of any age was seriously ill, but just hung on and miraculously pulled
through, for they had such a strong "will to live." You've also heard of someone who was ill, but not seriously so, and
just gave up and died - such as a young person who had a limb severed and just couldn't face life that way. Will does
play an important part in the final letting go or hanging on.
So often, one of the first symptoms of wanting to die and leave this earth is trying to communicate with someone
close, usually a parent. They had relied on their parents when young children and weak in body; now they are weak in
body again, and they want their parents to take care of them again. They may imagine they are out in the cornfield
again, or are playing with their brothers and sisters, or are walking to town with their parents. They may even wander
off from where they are living and re-enact these memories somewhere outside their home such as in the yard.
Please, if you are around someone while they are supposedly conversing with a person not really there, do not
laugh at them and then shrug it off by claiming they don't know what you're saying anyway. They do know. Instead,
ask them who they are talking to or who they are looking for. They probably will tell you it is a deceased relative.
Then ask what they are talking about, and let them share it with you.
You may say kindly, "But you aren't really talking to them, are you? You just wish you could." They will most likely
reply that they realize this. Then encourage them to tell you about things they remember about their life with these
relatives. They so desperately want and need someone to talk to at this time and usually no one takes the time, no
The next symptom of deciding to die is that they will sit down in an old favorite chair or lie down in bed and just stay
there for days and not talk. After that they will do what they can physically to carry out their dying, and begin to refuse
food. This is the only way they can control their body to make it weaker on purpose. As long as a person is eating
well, they are trying to live. When they quit eating, we can know they are probably preparing to die. Sometimes they
are force fed at this point.
(This, by no means, is an endorsement for euthanasia or suicide. There is a big difference. Euthanasia is giving
them something to help the dying process come faster. Don't be a part of these two activities.)
Be kind to these people during the times they are growing weaker and drifting off more. Encourage them to talk to
you about it if possible. Sing to them if you like, and pray with them even if you think they are asleep. They may still
be able to hear you. Read the Bible to them. And sometimes just sit and hold their hand.
It will give them comfort to know that someone will be going with them as far as they can in this world and sharing it
with them as much as they can so they will not be completely alone for the "crossing over." With such help and
encouragement from you, they might just possibly depart this life with a little smile on their lips.