Grow old with me
Keith Forecast comes to terms with later life
I am in my 80th year; I seem to have got there rather sooner than I expected. Old age, I always thought, was for other people, not for me; but time passes inexorably, and I have to admit that this is where I am. I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease 18 months ago; that too was something that happened to other people. I know that people much younger than I sometimes contract this degenerative condition, but most of those I have met who have it are elderly; now I have it myself, and though it is largely held in check for the moment by medication (thank God for the NHS!), it has accentuated the sense of growing old. And then, as if to add injury to insult, in a gale just before Christmas, my garage door flew open and knocked me flat on my face! How do I grow old gracefully?
I have been immensely fortunate, and I am grateful. I have had a full and active life: A ministry spanning more than 50 years, a succession of fulfilling pastorates and a rewarding family life. After reaching retiring age I was given opportunities for continuing ministry to which I was able to respond with enthusiasm. But now things are changing. One by one, my responsibilities have come to a natural end, at the same time as the restrictions have taken hold. I still lead worship locally from time to time; I serve as an elder in my local church; I continue with occasional committee work; I try to serve the community through membership of a residents’ association; and I can still drive. But I am no longer in a leadership role. On Sundays I sit in the pew while others lead. In the fellowship of the Church I take my place as a member and respond to the lead of others. The adjustment is not always easy. I am in danger of becoming disaffected and disgruntled, of disliking change, of implying that the way my contemporaries and I went about our ministry “in our day” was “the right way”. And all this is compounded by the knowledge that the Church to which I have given my life is declining fast, and by the unwelcome thought that one of the reasons for that might well be the way we did things “in our day”. I wonder if other elderly ministers find the same?
In and around all this is a sharpened awareness of my mortality. Approaching 80 reminded me that, even in these days when the expectation of life is so much greater than it was, my days are numbered. The Parkinson’s will get worse and could eventually be terminal. I worry about the future for my family, my church and my world, when I am no longer here to manage it. And I wonder, in a way I have usually put to the back of my mind, about what lies for me beyond the grave. I hold on to the faith I have always preached, but I confess that my hold on it is tenuous at times. What is the answer?..
This is an extract from the October 2014 edition of Reform.