We began talking about the possibility of doing a special issue on aging and life’s end a couple of years ago, during a brainstorming session with our hard-working Board of Trustees. The response to the suggestion of this topic was electric: ideas for possible articles and authors poured forth, and we felt we’d struck a real chord. Last fall when we announced this issue and invited readers to submit manuscripts for consideration, the response was a similar surge of energy. Many Friends are thinking about the topics of aging and life’s end, and many are actively engaged with these issues.
As a middle-aged person, not yet 60 (but getting there!), I’ve begun to grapple with some of the topics that are covered in this issue: trying to provide emotional and logistical support to aging parents, working with hospice as parents have died, thinking about my own retirement plans and hopes. As I’ve gone through the experience of being present to my parents and my husband’s parents in their final years, I’ve become very clear about the importance of planning, of communicating clearly with family, of reaching closure, of paying close attention to the quality of care being given, and the real need to be an active advocate for one’s elders. Thanks to modern forms of communication, it is possible to be involved in these things even at a distance from our family members, a common circumstance for many of us. In my family, one notorious example was an occasion when my failing father was in a nursing home, using the call bell to hail a nurse to no avail after he’d fallen and could not get up. He was able to use his phone to speak with my sister, who is a nurse in Idaho 2,000 miles away. She called the nurses’ station and intervened to get my father the attention he urgently needed. She also talked to the head of the nursing home, and changes in their procedures and staffing pattern eventually resulted.
Although I’ve not yet passed into that life zone referred to as "old age," many of my dearest friends have. They are wonderful role models of how to make one’s later years the blossom of a life well lived. So, too, are many of the older Friends I’ve known since my young adulthood. It is a little shocking to realize so many years have gone by, and as those older Friends whom I’ve long regarded as the pillars of the monthly and yearly meetings in which I’ve participated leave this life, it is a bit unnerving to realize that the cohort to which I belong are becoming the elders.
In the late 1970s, when I first joined the Friends Journal staff and met her, Betsy Balderston was a member of our then Board of Managers. Always a cheery presence on our Board and in her basement office down the hall from ours at Friends Center, Betsy staffed Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s Committee on Aging. As I came to know her, I became aware of her indefatigable advocacy for the elderly, and the great care and concern she put into advising older individuals as well as those who cared for them. When I returned to the Journal in 1999, I asked Betsy to come speak with our staff about retirement planning, and she presented a wealth of wisdom, materials, and resources for our consideration. If her health had permitted it, I have no doubt that she’d have been a wonderful advisor and contributor to this issue. How ironic that Betsy, who helped so many people with the challenges and concerns of old age, herself never reached that condition. She died at age 62 this past April, after a long struggle with breast cancer. I’d like to dedicate this issue to her, and to her many years of work with these concerns.