The elderly – living life to the fullest

All of us will eventually become an elderly person one day. It is a state of life that nobody can escape from.

Jul 07, 2023

Youths and catechists of City Parish, Penang spend time with the elderly at the Little Sisters of the Poor (LSP), Ayer Itam. (City Parish facebook)

I once heard a priest saying in his sermon that ‘the elderly are in the twilight of their lives’. It seemed presumptuous to label the elderly as such because there are many elderly folks who are active and living life to the fullest. We remember them especially in the month of July when we celebrate World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly on July 23.

Rise of the elderly
After the COVID-19 pandemic tapered off and life began returning to normalcy, there was an increase in church activities. After participating in these activities at parish and archdiocesan level, I noticed that the number of elderly folks participating in these activities sometimes outnumber the younger participants. Be it an outdoor or indoor event, a physical activity or an intellectual pursuit like Bible study sessions, the elderly were participating enthusiastically in these activities.

In parishes, we see many elderly folks serving in ministries and volunteering for various causes compared to the younger ones. A good reason is because the elderly, being retirees, have a lot of time on their hands.
The large number of elderly folks wanting to do more than merely staying home is an indication that the dioceses in Malaysia could do more for this group of people, especially since Malaysia is set on becoming an aging nation.

Aging nation
According to the United Nations, an aging country is where seven per cent of its total population is made up of people aged 65 years and above. Japan, Italy and Finland are examples of aging nations.

The Department of Statistics Malaysia estimates that 7.3 per cent of Malaysia’s population will reach 65 years of age by 2022. In a 2020 World Bank study, Malaysia is expected to become an aged nation in 2044 (with 14 per cent of its population aged 65 and above), and a super-aged nation in 2056 (with 20 per cent of its population aged 65 and above).

Acknowledging the signs of the times, various organisations in Malaysia have started preparing for the transition into an aged nation.

Preparing for an aging nation
As an aging nation, a country will experience an increase in life expectancy due to better healthcare services and living standards. This has spurred a demand for integrated resorts and community living specially designed for the elderly such as Eden on the Park (in Kuching, Sarawak) and Sunway Sanctuary (in Petaling Jaya, Selangor).

Examples of Catholic-based homes for the elderly in Malaysia are Graceville Home (in Johor Bahru, Johor) and Sri Seronok Retirement Village (in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur). And there’s the endearing Little Sisters of the Poor religious order who are actively serving the elderly poor in Cheras and Penang.

With the increase in number of elderly persons, perhaps it is time to expand those homes or build new ones.

World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly
In January 2021, Pope Francis established World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly. The observance is celebrated annually on the fourth Sunday of July to coincide with the memorial of Sts Anne & Joachim (July 26), the parents of the Virgin Mary, and grandparents of Jesus.

During the Mass, Pope Francis noted that in the scene of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, the elderly Simeon and Anna had recognised Jesus as the Messiah. He said, “The Holy Spirit even today, stirs up thoughts and words of wisdom in the elderly. The voice of the elderly is precious because it sings the praises of God and preserves the roots of the peoples.”

Pope Francis added, “The elderly reminds us that old age is a gift and that grandparents are the link between the different generations, to pass on to the young the experience of life.”

Living life to the fullest as an elderly person
Elderly folk can contribute to society in their own way, especially with their vast life experiences.
Grandparents may impart their knowledge and experience to their grandchildren. Certain grandparents even look after their grandchildren whilst the parents are out working the whole day.

Even elderly persons who are immobile could become prayer warriors, praying and interceding for one another. And we all need prayers which we often take for granted.

At a soup kitchen where I serve weekly, there are a few homeless elderly guys who sit quietly in the corner. Because they cannot move around quickly, they are given simple tasks that can be done whilst seated such as wiping the plates and cutting vegetables. In spite of their age, these individuals make themselves useful by serving their fellow homeless brothers from the streets.

All of us will eventually become an elderly person one day. It is a state of life that nobody can escape from. And when I reach that milestone with a head full of greying hair and a wrinkled face, I don’t want to be labelled as being in the twilight of my life. Instead, I want to live life to the fullest.

(Julie Lim Seet Yin believes that a satisfied life measured by one’s heart, mind and soul is better than a successful life measured by worldly yardsticks. She can be reached at: [email protected])

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