Viewpoint: Prepare for and Enjoy Old Age

  From the Church News

  • 7 July 2013

At the age of 78, President N. Eldon Tanner of the First Presidency wrote, “It is sad to see someone who has come to the end of his productive years, and had to retire, who was not ready either financially, physically, mentally, or spiritually.”

An employee who had been with the same company for more than three decades began thinking about what might come after full-time employment ceased, in the retirement years: How would the days be filled? What would keep the body active and the mind engaged? 

At age 78, President N. Eldon Tanner of the First Presidency wrote a First Presidency message for the December 1976 Ensign titled “Preparing for Old Age.” He said, “Some of us do, and all of us should, realize that we are gradually coming to the close of the normal productive period of our lives, and we ask ourselves how well we have prepared and are preparing for this period of retirement from active employment. It is difficult for youth and young adults to really realize that some day they too will be old, and they spend their time, energy, and money satisfying their immediate desires, appetites, and passions, rather than planning for comfortable and enjoyable retirement. …

“It is sad to see someone who has come to the end of his productive years, and had to retire, who was not ready either financially, physically, mentally, or spiritually. So often we find older people, due to no fault of their own, in a state of poverty, ill health, loneliness, or unhappiness.

“These are cases where the family, if there is any, should rally around those who need their love and fellowship so much—where home teachers and visiting teachers should show a keen interest and do what is possible to make their lives more enjoyable. Neighbors and friends should also be mindful of those who need their loving kindness.”

It is wise to do whatever we can to maintain physical fitness, sound health, mental acuity, social contacts, and a productive lifestyle. However, we ought not become so obsessed with staying young that we fear growing old. And we ought not let our concerns about old age overshadow life today. Each stage of life has its purposes, challenges, and rewards. 

President David O. McKay, as the 77-year-old President of the Church (who would live until age 96), quoted in an April 1953 general conference address these words by R. J. Sprague:

“Every period of human life is wonderful; the irresponsible age of childhood, the thrilling years of adolescence and courtship, the productive, struggling, burden-bearing era of parenthood; but the most wonderful time of life comes when the father and mother become close friends of their grown-up, successful sons and daughters, and can begin to enjoy their children’s children. …

“Every normal individual should complete the full cycle of human life with all its joys and satisfactions in natural order: childhood, adolescence, youth, parenthood, middle age, and the age of grandchildren. Each age has satisfactions which can be known only by experience. You must be born again and again in order to know the full course of human happiness. When the first baby is born, a mother is born, a father is born, and grandparents are born; only by birth can any of these come into being. Only by the natural cycle of life can the great progressive joys of mankind be reached.” 

One thing is certain: unless we die young, we will become old. Aging has its ironies: toddlers want to be old enough to go to school, grade-schoolers want to become teenagers, and teens practically count the days until they become adults.

At some point in the 20s, aging takes on a different hue. Those who, as youngsters, wanted to be older start trying to put on the brakes against aging. They look askance at turning 30, then feel “over the hill” when they hit 40. There is something particularly difficult for some who turn 50, the half-century mark. Some people well into their 60s refer to themselves as “middle-aged.” 

Another reversal of sorts takes place around age 70, when many readily admit their age. Some in their 80s might proudly tell how many years they have been on earth. Once a 90th birthday comes, every year is counted as a bonus. Those who are 100 and older, especially if they’re still able to maintain a satisfying lifestyle, celebrate their years.

We all have responsibilities pertaining to aging. First, we need to take care of and prepare ourselves for our own old age—assuming we live long enough to attain that designation—while making the most of each moment now. Second, we need to be mindful of and care for those who are elderly, especially those who have particular needs. 

Years don’t necessarily define ability. One man in his mid-90s, who lived alone and maintained his own home, excused himself from an event one day, saying, “I have to go help some old folks.” He was a volunteer wheelchair pusher who escorted residents who were a decade or two younger to their care center’s social activities.

In his April 2003 general conference address, President Boyd K. Packer, then Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve, referred to older members as “a priceless resource of experience, wisdom, and inspiration.”

He spoke of many ways in which they contribute to their wards, stakes, and communities. Then he counseled bishops:

“Do you realize that some problems you worry about so much with the youth, and with others, could be solved if they would stay close to their fathers and mothers and to their grandparents, to the older folks?

“If you are burdened with overmuch counseling, there are older sisters, grandmas in the ward, who can influence young married women and act as a grandmother to them. And there are older grandfathers for the young men. Older people have a steadiness, a serenity that comes from experience. Learn to use that resource” (“The Golden Years”).

After retiring, many members bless countless lives by serving as senior missionaries and in other callings. Members in their 80s and 90s—even some centenarians—serve as visiting and home teachers, do family history and temple work, serve in Church callings, and volunteer in their communities. These members have gleaned much through their years and bless many lives. May those who are younger be prepared to follow their example.