Back in my seminary days I did my supervised ministry at a nursing home in Lexington, Kentucky. In the course of a couple of years (I kept visiting there after my coursework was completed) I made many friends.
Pearl was the first one to shock me. On my first day there I sat down to visit with her. We talked about our lives up to that point, getting to know each other. Since I was in training for ministry, I thought prayer would be an appropriate part of our relationship. Instead of just imposing a prayer on her, I asked her what I could pray for her. “Pray that I die tonight,” she said. That was the first time I had ever heard anyone say such a thing, young and naive fellow that I was. So I went ahead an imposed a prayer on her anyway. Over the years I have learned – from Pearl and others – that it’s ok to pray for people to pass on.
B.D. was another friend. She didn’t have a name, just initials. She was in her 90s and the only family she had was her elderly son and his wife (who were themselves childless). B.D. had a lively sense of humor and was a joy to visit with. After a few weeks I showed up one day and went looking for B.D. but couldn’t find her anywhere. Finally I asked at the nurses’ station. They explained that her son had had a disagreement with the management of the nursing home and had moved her elsewhere. So I never saw my friend B.D. again. Though she was still alive, I suddenly found myself without the ability to say goodbye.
After finishing seminary I moved to my first appointment, a couple of small churches in NE Texas. I was such a youngster (though I had finished my Master’s degree by then), that people, upon meeting me, would ask to see my father. Surley I was too young to be the real pastor.
Since the church was mostly older folks, I made my friends among that set. I think I was closest to one particular family – two sisters and a brother. I took the brother out visiting with me sometimes. Other times, we’d go to the high school sporting events together. But before I left (having been there only two and a half years), I had to do his funeral. His sisters didn’t live much beyond that.
Those are some of the problems you run into when you make friends with people in their 80s or older. You realize pretty quickly that this friendship might not last a long time. Some might ask, why bother? Why set yourself up for the pain of losing another friend?
I can think of a couple of reasons to make friends anyway. First, people who are short for the earth need friends too. I’ve had many older people complain to me that they’re lonely – that they’ve outlived all their friends. The solution to that is to keep making friends. I can’t very well give them that advice and then not be willing to be their friend.
Second, though we don’t care to admit it, we’re all temporary. While people in their 80s may strike us as more temporary (and their nearness to eternity uncomfortably reminds us of our own), we are no less temporary, and have no guarantee of any more days in this life than they.
So we followers of Jesus make friends. Some friends we’ll enjoy here for years and years. Some for only a few moments. But short or long, in the grace of God, friends are worth making.