Care for the elderly that is. Like it or not we're all getting older. Apparently at the same rate. And as one older man said, "The problem with old age is that it comes at a very difficult time of life."

Or as Psalm 90:10 puts it:

 Our days may come to seventy years,
    or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
    for they quickly pass, and we fly away.

"Elderly failed by 'shameful' care system" was the BBC headline today.( Across the country 1000's of people are struggling, often alone, sometimes in great pain, with the problems of growing old. 

I've just been away for 24 hours with my fraternal discussing a book about care for the elderly and those dying. A fraternal is a group of blokes in Christian ministry who meet to encourage one another. We've been meeting 3 times a year for the last 14 years. We didn't discuss the book because we're all getting older. Though it is noticeable that our traditional post lunch hike has become a stroll and might soon have to turn into a post lunch nap! 

The book is called "Being Mortal" by Atul Gawande. He's not a Christian, but has lots of interesting things to say about what we regard as being important in caring for the elderly. He outlines some questions that he asks folk who have had a terminal diagnosis to help plan their care:

1. What are you fears?

2. What are your hopes?

3. What are your goals for the rest of your life?

4. What are the trade-offs you're willing to make for those goals to happen?

5. What are you not willing to trade off?

So someone might answer for example...

1. I'm afraid of pain as I come to die.

2. I hope that I might get to spend more time with family and friends.

3. My goal is that I'd like to die at home.

4. I'm willing to trade-off the brief extra time that further treatment might give me, so that I can feel better and spend more time with family.

5. I'm not willing to trade-off a significant increase of pain, even if that means that I have to die in hospital rather than home.

Gawande's questions are a great thing to ask yourself at any stage of life. In fact the earlier that you begin asking the right questions, the less likely it is that you will find yourself set in a pattern of life that means that you can't achieve your goals.

Christians should have distinctive answers to the questions. One of my mates at the fraternal said that he had a man in his church with a terminal diagnosis whose answers went something like this:

1. My fear is that I have friends and family at home in Africa who don't know Jesus.

2. My hope is that because Jesus has risen from the dead, I know death is not the end for me. But I will go to be with Him in paradise.

3. My goal is to return to Africa to tell them the gospel.

4. I am willing to trade-off the superior medical care that I will receive in this country.

5. I am not willing to trade-off their need to hear of Christ.

He went to tell them. I'm not sure that I wouldn't be rather more self-centred in the same circumstances.

How would you answer those 5 questions? Now? If you only had months to live?