Never Underestimate the Richness of Life

Never Underestimate the Richness of Life

Jim Stinson, Former Consultant on Older Adult Ministries


Elizabeth was a gem. She always had a huge grin at the ready—she loved everyone around her. Other residents adored her. She was different though, having a medical event early in her life that damaged her brain and left her thought processing slow and often quite childlike. But her personality rose above what could have been a tragedy. For whatever reason, she managed to live a full life, working as a housekeeper for the Residence for Students of St. Vincent’s Nursing School in Bridgeport, Conn. Despite what others may have thought, she lived life with aplomb and grace, even after retirement. She died peacefully the other day at 86 years of age at Wicke Health Center, where she was a resident.

Elizabeth struck a chord in most people who knew her, as evidenced by the outpouring of genuine grief, mixed with real appreciation for her life. I will surely think of her often, always with a smile of appreciation for having known her. 

Her story reminds me not to make snap judgments about someone based on the initial impression, especially on what can be seen externally. As badly as I feel about those moments when I did exactly that, I know I am not alone. The numbers of people who visit Wesley Village (a United Methodist Homes continuing care community in Shelton, Conn.), who are equally shortsighted, strike me. They come as adult children, family members, friends, pastors, and lay members, all seeking to express genuine care and concern for our residents.

So often they do so, unready or unable, to see beneath the externals and discover the internals. They miss opportunities to touch the real person, miss the opportunity to allow their loved one to express who they really are, what they really feel.

Their conversations too often revolve around the physical. How’s your health? How’s your exercise and therapy going? Those of us who visit in this manner never know the real person, never know the dreams (yes, older, frail, sick people, still have dreams) or the possibilities yet to be discovered (yes, older people are capable of exploring and growing right to the end of life).

We shortchange them and ourselves by not looking and delving deeper, not opening pathways to conversations about continued growth. And in not doing so we expect too little of the older adult, adding to an often growing sense of “I’ve outlived my usefulness.” Elizabeth reminds me what a mistake it is to underestimate anyone, anywhere, anytime. Don’t make that same mistake. 

Our faith tells us that hope is eternal, and a rich, full life is possible, regardless the age or circumstances.

Feel free to print or share with your congregation. © 2012 Rev. James Stinson