Feeling Invisible

Grandmother sitting at the table with a big book.A common comment coming from the lips of aging adults with enough boldness to speak the truth is, “I feel invisible.” In her book Voices of Aging, author Missy Buchanan presents perspectives on several key topics from the point of view of the adult child and the aging parent. One elder said, “Sometimes I feel obsolete. Unnecessary. Irrelevant. Like a carton of milk whose expiration date is long past.” Another aging parent said, “I remember sitting in my room while my children talked about me as if I weren’t even there.”

No one should feel so invisible. If we take the time to look into the eyes of older people, and truly listen to what they say, it’s possible to see both who they were, and who they still are.

“Don’t judge my story by the chapter you walked in on,” reads a poignant anonymous quote. But isn’t that what we do? If we meet someone for the first time at the end of their lives, don’t we too often forget that this is simply one chapter? Would we want those who meet us later in life to make that same error in judgment?

This week I will add another assisted living Bible study class to my schedule. I sought a location close to our new home so it will be easy for me to visit there during inclement weather. I felt the Lord leading me to the place I selected, but when I met with the activities director there I learned that 90% of the residents have dementia. Will they still have moments of clarity when they can hear the truth of the gospel presented in the lessons in The Hope of Glory? Will the old hymns stimulate their long-term memories and put a smile on their faces? I pray so. But if not, the homemade cookies and hugs I offer will have to be enough of a reason to show up.

Most important, as I look forward to meeting these dear old souls, I pray I’ll be able to see who they were at a younger age, and who they authentically are today. I want to know about the earlier chapters of their no doubt fascinating lives, and appreciate the totality of the lives they have lived. I don’t want them to say, like another older person in Buchanan’s book, “My life is a library filled with books that no one reads anymore—books of adventure and romance, advice and how-tos.” As I get to know them, I hope to explore all the volumes of their lives.

Even people in their sixties, those categorized as “young seniors” but on the far side of “prime,” can feel invisible at times. Meeting the residents in the patio home community to which we moved this past summer, I sometimes think quietly to myself, “I sure wish I’d known you sooner.” And I wouldn’t be surprised if those who met me for the first time thought the same thing.

Recently we had a social gathering in our community and as I met each 60-plus person I couldn’t help but surmise: He must have been an effective CEO before he retired. She was obviously a beauty queen or a cheerleader. He was probably an excellent athlete earlier. She has no doubt been a patron of the arts her whole life. That couple must have always been partiers! Seeing them as they are now provided me with plenty of clues to the earlier chapters in their lives, and I’m looking forward to getting to know more about each person here. None will be invisible to me.

From the youngest to the oldest, we can all feel invisible at times. Yet we are never invisible in God’s eyes. He always sees us as we are and wherever we are, and only He sees who we ultimately will be when all the trappings of this earth fall away. Invisible? Not on His watch.

Comments

  1. Elizabeth Van LIere says:

    Nancy, so many of your thoughts echo many of my own. I often wonder why I am so blessed to be able to play CDs of hymns once a week at an assisted living home for the six, or eight or sometimes ten women who come. One man, with a booming voice. sings along with the songs as though he is in a choir. He has health problems but his healthy mind shows a deep love for Jesus. And, yes, the women may look at me with a blank “Who are you?” look, but I see their lips move, singing the hymns silently. Doing Bible studies would not work with this group but reading a little bit of Scripture before the music brightens their eyes. How I would love to find a young woman such as you to carry on when I’m no longer able to do so. And how happy I am in knowing you.

    • What you are doing is such a gift for those people, Betty! I know God is smiling, too! May he keep you able to go for many more years!

  2. Nancy,
    What a beautiful and moving tribute. How very sad for anyone to feel like an expired carton of milk, or a library full of books no one reads anymore. May God richly bless you as reach out to lift the cloak of invisibility from those who are forever visible in His eyes.

  3. Sue Finger says:

    Nancy, your blogs are always right on, so pertinent to where I am that day!!

  4. I love this, Nancy, and I love you! May God continue to bless you as you so sweetly show Jesus to others, especially those in this new assisted living Bible study class. I’d love to come be a part someday! Your words are also a loving reminder to ALL of us–no matter our age–that our Heavenly Father sees us…always. That we are precious to Him. Thank you:)

  5. Your Husband says:

    Nancy
    I pray your new outreach will give a sense of “visibility” to many lives .
    GodSpeed

  6. How lovely and important for us to remember…best one yet!
    Jimmie

    • Thank you, Jimmie. A woman at Brookdale today took me to her room and showed me a quilt her mother helped her make. She said, “I decided there’s no reason to save it anymore so I put it on the bed!” It is beautiful. I took a photo to show you.

  7. Oh, Nancy, this is one of my all-time favorites of yours. THANK YOU for sharing so richly about all the dear ones who may be next door neighbors or a-little-farther-away neighbors in an assisted living center—but all who are worthy of being loved and treated as visible. Bless you for opening our eyes and our hearts.

    • Thanks for “getting it,” Beth! I always wonder why anyone feels useless or bored when there are plenty of older people needing a visit!

  8. Cindy Penchoff says:

    This was amazing – as always. I love your insight and love that you are able to express in writing things that are only rattling loose around in my head. Thank you for this reminder.

  9. Amazing post, Nancy. You do an excellent job conveying this “invisibility” problem of the aging. It’s also a sentiment that applies to the homeless, children and adults with special needs, and those in detention or prisons, so your post is a powerful reminder on many levels. I was very touched by the comment, “Don’t judge my story by the chapter you walked in on,” which states the pain poignantly with one sentence.

    • Absolutely, Marylin. There are a lot of “marginalized” portions of our society who need and deserve our care and attention. Good addition!

  10. Kathy Fitz says:

    One of your best ones yet, Nancy. Working with my Seniors, I can so see this! They are so rich in life experiences, yet hesitate to contribute because they they feel they are not relevant. I can relate sometimes……… Thanks for reminding us of our worth in Jesus.

    • Happy to do so, Kathy. There are days when I need the reminder, too: if we’re still breathing, God has a purpose for us!

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