Growing Old Gracefully

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Mo Siegel

By Mo Siegel, president, Urantia Foundation, Boulder, Colorado, United States

What a dinner-crazy conversation we had! Max and Karen described Max's aging parents. Grumpy and bored would be an understatement in explaining the day-to-day cold war going on in their home. After 60 years of marriage, they cannot stand each other. Both aging parents meander around the house as tortured souls in a long-term fight with each other and with life. Recently Max's dad, age 93, announced to the family that he is sick of his wife and wants to start dating. Since that time, Max's mom, age 87, has a packed suitcase, which sits by the door, and whenever she gets overly annoyed at Max and her husband, she points to the suitcase and threatens to split at a moment’s notice. In the meantime, they stay cloistered in their house, waiting for the next shoe to drop.

Beth was also at the dinner party and started explaining her mom and dad's story. Wow, if Max's conversation sounds nuts, it fits perfectly with Beth's. Her ailing parents live in a perpetual state of contention with an occasional truce during a televised football game. Beth's father, age 84, has become nocturnal in an obvious attempt to avoid his 75 year-old wife. Both yell at each other and accuse each other of practically everything, including their daily aches and pains. They are generally miserable and angry, and it often feels as if they are waiting to die. One could cut their discontentment with a knife.

Notwithstanding that the stories were sad, we experienced pleasure in telling and listening to "crazy old-parent stories." The "he said, she said" sounded like a TV sitcom, but in the clear light of day, what a tragic end to their earthly lives.

About a week after the dinner party, our 88-year-old friend Scott died. We had last seen Scott in July 2013. His Parkinson's disease had overtaken his body, as he sat there hooked up to oxygen. His demeanor was positive, he was interested in us, he was hopeful about life, and he was very upbeat even though he was obviously dying. Scott had lived an active life filled with accomplishments and was rooted in his deep relationship with God. After retiring, Scott never stopped growing. He spent the last years of his life learning and actively caring for others. He was interested and interesting. Selfless and big hearted, Scott manifested, in his later years, grace, purpose, and joy―even during his consuming illness.

The contrast between the dinner conversation about malcontented, aging parents and Scott's life kept me thinking for weeks. Why were some older people much happier than other older people? Was it purely genetic or a combination of genetics and something deeper? Two quotes from Paper 159 in The Urantia Book helped explain the dilemma.

The first quote, "Increasing happiness is always the experience of all who are certain about God" required me to learn more about both older couples. As it turns out, neither unhappy couple had much of a personal relationship with God. One couple passively admitted to God's probable existence, but they have no active personal faith. The other couple is culturally religious twice a year, and God was rarely discussed in the family.

Scott, on the other hand, had a life-long, active relationship with God and continually practiced his personal religion. His happiness could be seen as the Father finding expression in the life of a love-saturated soul.

The second quote reveals another important truth. "Idleness is destructive of self-respect.” As we age, we can stay at home regretting our lost youth while agonizing over our progressive deterioration. Or we can get out of the house and help others with greater problems than our own. It does not take more than a few minutes to find someone in need who has it much worse than we do. Helping others is joyful "feel good medicine." Freedom from a grumpy self comes by forgetting one's self and actively loving and serving others.

While being high minded and intellectual, the teachings of The Urantia Book are also exceedingly practical and real. The Urantia Revelation promises that a personal relationship with God brings lasting happiness. For those of us who experience God in our daily lives, we know the fact and truth of that statement. With God we have everything, and without God we have nothing.

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