“Why must I live so long?”

This was the question my ninety-six-year-old great-grandpa pondered several years ago. His wife had died several years earlier. He felt he had completed his mission in life and was ready to go to the other side. His eyesight and hearing were beginning to fail, and he felt trapped in his deteriorating body.

What could be God’s purposes in such circumstances? It may be simply that the individual has a capacity for long life. Or it could be a matter of enduring to the end, something we all need to learn. Whatever God’s reasons, I think many times old people bless the lives of younger family members. Some of my best lessons have been learned from very old grandparents.

My Grandmother Grigg was in her nineties when she died ten years ago. As a child I did not really know or appreciate her. She was old and feeble, and I did not stop playing long enough to know her well.

But when I was in high school, grandma became bedridden and required constant care, and I took my turn staying with her. This turned out to be a great blessing to me as I learned to love her. I came to know her as a beautiful and talented woman, the mother of thirteen children and a published poet. She quickly became my ideal, and I am still striving to become the kind of woman she was.

Though she could not hear or see very well and had to be carried with a hydraulic lift from her bed to her chair, grandma’s mind was sharp. She was always eager to hear about my boyfriends, my hopes and dreams. The last year before she died, she called me on my birthday. Though I was only one of many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, yet she remembered me. During the time I helped care for her, I never once heard her complain. I only received words of appreciation for every little kindness shown her. What great lessons she taught me!

I have often wondered if she remained as long as she did just so I and others could learn those lessons. She suffered a lot those last years, and it has made me try even harder to honor the heritage she left.

Seven years after asking “Why must I live so long?” my great-grandfather, M. J. Blackburn, is 103 and still active and alert. He has taught us to keep learning and never get mentally or spiritually stale. When his eyesight became too poor for him to read, he started ordering records on many different subjects. His favorite subjects are religion and current events, especially politics.

He has taught us about prayer and knowing our Savior. He offered the family prayer at the funeral of our little daughter, just twenty-one months old, and it was as if he were face-to-face with the Lord, reporting on how we had nurtured the child and cared for her during her short stay in mortality.

Grandpa Blackburn has taught us that you are never too old to develop a new talent. While in his nineties he learned to make beautiful macramé plant hangers. Now that his eyesight is failing, he makes them by touch.

Grandpa, we cannot fully answer your question of why you are living so long. But we can surely thank you for living so well!

Let’s Talk about It

After reading “Why Must I Live So Long?” individually or as a family, you may wish to discuss some of the following questions:

1. What have your grandparents done to show that they love you? How can you show love for them?

2. What have you learned from your grandparents about love, patience, kindness, sacrifice, or other virtues?

3. If grandparents live with you, how can you help them feel useful in the family?

4. What are some of the things we can do for the elderly to show respect for them?

[photo] Photography by Jed A. Clark

“Come See Me Next Week”

I never gave much thought to my future old-age when I was young. But something happened to me on my way through life. I became old. Why did I think this only happened to others?

The day finally comes when we older folks look into the mirror with Snow White’s unforgettable question, “Who is the fairest of them all?” and the mirror answers honestly. We ask ourselves, why do I look so different from the way I feel inside?

Is there no solution to my dilemma? I told myself there were still things to do, places to go, and people to meet before I was ready to sleep. But my tired old tabernacle sits in an easy chair with a restless me inside.

How do we cope with sagging muscles, stiffened joints, aching parts which refuse to do our bidding, even though the spirit is more than willing to go on? I never thought growing old would be like this.

The “me” who inhabits this body has not changed that much. Inside, I want to take a brisk walk, go shopping, visit a friend, even do something daring such as climbing a mountain.

Perhaps the answer lies outside my frail frame. You can help. Come and visit. Let me smell your perfume. Bring the crisp, cold air of the outdoors inside to me. Play the music I want to hear. Read the news to me. Tell me about the world. Let’s discuss a good book, a football game, the new fashions. I am hungry to know it all.

Please talk to me as an equal, rather than someone who has been reduced to basket weaving or finger painting. My IQ has not turned white, or even slightly gray. And please try not to look at me with pity in your eyes. My life has been gloriously full of adventures, joys, good times as well as bad.

When you must take your leave of me, refrain from patting my cheek like a small child. Give my hand a hearty shake instead. You will help me to feel that I am still in the human race. And come to see me next week, and the next, and the next.

Judy Grigg Hansen, mother of three, is Relief Society miniclass teacher and Primary chorister in her Boise, Idaho, ward.

Madeline Keen lives in Provo, Utah.