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America’s Elderly: The Forgotten Generation

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Many residents in America's care centers never have visitors – not from family, friends, clergy or anyone from a church.

I’d like to tell you about one of the largest forgotten people groups in America. You might be surprised and even shocked to learn that this group includes the precious people who reside in our communities’ care centers.

Many residents of America’s care centers never have visitors – not from family, friends, clergy or anyone from a church. So how did this group, once known as “The Greatest Generation,” become more like “the forgotten generation”? The primary reasons are the increasing breakdown of the family unit and the geographical relocation of remaining family members throughout the country.

Loneliness and Depression

Most of these folks are lonely. Many are depressed and discouraged. Some are angry. Most feel they are of little value to their families or to society. Many, in an effort to make sense of why they have been forgotten, excuse their family members’ absence by saying that they are just too busy to visit, that they have their own lives and careers, or that it’s just too depressing to visit the care center where the elderly mother or father resides.

Care-center residents rarely get to share their personal stories with anyone. A gentleman who is 100 told me that he has many stories he’d like to tell, but that no one takes the time to listen.

Someone once said, “When we lose an elderly person, we lose a library.” How true! But who among us will record their legacy before they’re gone?

No Visitors

My own parents lived in an acute-care facility in Jacksonville, Florida. My father had cancer, and my mother had a massive stroke that left her unable to talk, walk or eat. My two brothers and I spent many hours – sometimes entire days – in the facility with our parents. I began to see how lonely some of the residents were, day in and day out.

These residents rarely had regular visits from anyone. And when one of them passed away, the body was quietly removed from the care facility and no mention was made of him or her again.

For the most part, I observed that the staff members of the care facilities were taking care of the physical needs of the residents, but their spiritual and emotional needs were not being met.

After my dad and mom passed away, I began having terrible dreams about my mother. I was very close to her, and in my dreams I saw her in disturbing situations that I would never have allowed her to be in. I would wake up crying and very upset.

One day, out of frustration, I said to the Lord, “My mom is no longer here, so I can’t help her.” I sensed His reply to me: “Yes, but what about all those you can help?”

I wanted to do more, but I was working a full-time job, my husband had many health issues and I felt like I was just too old! After struggling for several months, I finally said yes to the Lord. I began doing research about ministry to the elderly residents in care centers. What I found was astounding and heartbreaking. Very little was being done to meet the spiritual and emotional needs of the elderly.

My husband, Jerry, and I began to pray, asking the Lord what He wanted us to do to meet these needs. The answer I received is that our care facilities must be filled with chaplains, counselors, pastors and lay people to meet the spiritual and emotional needs of this forgotten generation.

Determined

The more I learned, the more determined I was to do something to reach these residents. My heart was broken, so I decided to become a missionary to this special group of people and urge as many others as possible to help me reach out to them with the love of Christ.

You, too, can use your gifts and talents to reach out to those who reside in our communities’ care centers. The Lord is looking for people who will share His love and to give of themselves without reservation.

Pastors, in particular, can encourage their congregations to get involved in regular visitation to the residents of a nearby care center. Sunday school classes, home churches, small groups, families and individuals can all get involved.

During a visit to a nursing home in the United States, Mother Teresa once said, “There is a pain, far worse than hunger or poverty; it is the pain of being rejected.”

The Lord has given us very specific commands in His Word to take care of the elderly. Together, we can reach this generation for the Lord. The fields are indeed “white for harvest” (John 4:35).

Make a Difference

The residents of our care centers are at a crossroads in life, and many of them are ready to make a decision for the Lord. We can make an eternal difference in their lives as well as the lives of their families and the staff of the care centers.

God has given us much – spiritually, physically and financially. Let us in return give back to those who have given us so very much.

Kay Owen-Larson is founder and president of Crossroads Ministries USA. She is an ordained minister and has more than 50 years of experience in Christian ministry.

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