“Sometimes I wish God would just take me.” I can’t tell you how often I hear this in my visits with the elderly, usually in a hushed and confessional tone. Last week a woman I’d just met shared this with me, after tearfully telling me about her estranged daughter, a granddaughter who lives blocks away and never visits, and the necessity of moving out of her home recently, following a serious fall. She now lives in a nursing home, has a roommate, few if any visitors, and she had to whittle down her possessions to fit into half a room. She looked me straight in the eyes and said: “I want to die now.”
What do I say? Sometimes: “Uh-huh (accompanied by a heartfelt nod).” Other times, I’ve asked: “Have you mentioned that to God?” I try to put myself in the person’s shoes, and wonder if I might have that same desire to go home to God after a long life that’s getting increasingly challenging, lonely, and fraught with loss. It’s a comforting idea, I’m sure.
But, God’s ways are a mystery, and who knows why some people live to be 104 and others are with us such a short time? Why is one person clobbered by loss after loss, while another seems to glide through old age effortlessly? I can see why some older people have had enough! Who knows why any of us are still here? We shake our heads together in wonder.
I could grope around for a good response to their wish for life to be over. Sometimes I’ve quoted Psalm 139, how “darkness is not dark to God.” But, really, it’s not my job to smooth over a person’s pain. I’m there to sit with them in their pain.
And, to remind each and every elder I visit that he or she is deeply loved by God, tenderly held, and cherished. Whether life be easy or tough, this much is true. Always.