Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Do You Fear Befriending Someone Older Than You? by Zoe M. McCarthy

Thelma and me, December 2006
“God, why are you calling me to befriend Thelma? Don’t you see I have a fulltime job, ministries, writing, and a family? Saturday is my day to do the things I can’t do during the workweek! I don’t know anything about old people!” In 1994, this’s what I railed to God. 

I’d agreed to drive eighty-four-year old Thelma one Saturday a month to a nursing home to visit her husband with Alzheimer’s. She’d injured her shoulders caring for him at home and now was a driving risk. During the drives, I found Thelma sharp, humorous, and a reader like me. 

Then Thelma’s husband died. The volunteer drivers ceased contact with her. As much as I wanted to, how could I do the same? Just because her need was gone, how could I drop her? I sensed God wanted me to befriend her, and I was angry.

For over 10 years, I spent every other Saturday morning with Thelma while I was still working, and every Tuesday afternoon after I retired. She’d make me her yummy potato salad until she couldn’t, and I supplied her with Christian romance novels—and “tea & crumpets” too when her family later moved her in with them. 

I knew she looked forward to my visits, and I received much joy from our friendship. God honored my faithfulness.

Near the end of those years with Thelma, John and I moved my mother-in-law suffering from dementia to live with us. It took much adjustment, but I appreciated her cheerfulness. I learned to be a kind listener to her repeated stories and to answer her repeated questions. And I saw what a faithful son my husband is when he later visited her daily in a nursing home.

Years after my mother-in-law’s death, I made two-week visits four times a year to my partially paralyzed mother in a Florida nursing home, supplementing my sister’s and brother’s care.

I’d thought keeping mental abilities preferable to suffering dementia, until I observed how demeaning life could sometimes be for my mentally sharp mother. But during my stays, I witnessed people she knew and didn’t know visit her. I appreciated others giving their time to my mother.

Now I have befriended two “Thelmas.” What I’ve learned from my earlier relationships with older ladies helps me be a good friend and enjoy these lovely women. Also, I can create richer older story characters.

Here are visiting tips:
  • Some lonely “Thelmas” want more time than you can give. Tell them the amount of time you have and give them the choice of how you spend it, e.g. visiting or shopping. 
  • Be as consistent with your visits as possible. “Thelmas” look forward to them.
  • Be consistent with the amount of time you spend with them so they can relax and not fear you’re going to leave.
  • Spending at least an hour with “Thelmas” gives them time to enjoy conversations. Quick-greeting-small-talk-and-goodbye visits disappoint “Thelmas.”
  • Listen more than talk. “Thelmas” have problems that you may be the only one to whom they can express them.
  • Listen to “Thelmas’” complaints, but refrain from speaking against their family members. 
  • Embrace the stories “Thelmas” with dementia tell repeatedly. It’s what they want to talk about. Answer their repeated questions with the same understanding tone.
  • If a “Thelma” with dementia seems agitated, redirect her to tell a story she enjoys telling.
  • Many “Thelmas” with dementia love and recall hymns. Singing hymns calms them.
  • If you take your “Thelma” to a gathering, look at her often, and listen when she speaks. Those in early stages of dementia can feel ignored.
  • If “Thelmas” are hard of hearing, sit close and always face them when you speak.
  • Laugh with your “Thelmas” often.  
Years ago when Thelma lamented that she wished she could move as fast as I could and do the things for me that I did for her, I told her “You have ministered to others all your life, now it’s your job to allow me to have that honor with you.”

And it is an honor.

When has God called you to befriend an older person, and you’ve been blessed?


About the Author
Zoe M. McCarthy believes the little known fact that opposites distract. Thus, she spins Christian contemporary romances entangling extreme opposites. Her tagline is: Distraction to Attraction, Magnetic Romances Between Opposites. Now retired actuaries, Zoe and her husband evaluated the financial risks for insurance companies. Nick, in Zoe’s debut novel, Calculated Risk, is an actuary. Christian Fiction Online Magazine published two of her short stories. Zoe self-published two books of contemporary Christian short stories. She’s a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. She enjoys leading workshops on the craft of writing; speaking about her faith; planning fun events for her 5 grandchildren; and exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains, where she lives with her husband, John. 
Learn more about Zoe M. McCarthy at her website: http://zoemmccarthy.com

Calculated Risk

What happens when an analytical numbers man meets a mercurial marketing Rep? Romance is a calculated risk…

Jilted by the latest of her father’s choices of “real men,” Cisney Baldwin rashly accepts an invitation to spend Thanksgiving weekend with a sympathetic colleague and his family. Nick LeCrone is a man too much her opposite to interest her and too mild-mannered to make her overbearing father’s “list.” Now, Cisney fears Nick wants to take advantage of her vulnerable state over the holiday. Boy, is she wrong.

Nick wants little to do with Cisney. She drives him crazy with all her sticky notes and quirks. He extended an invitation because he felt sorry for her. Now he’s stuck, and to make matters worse, his family thinks she’s his perfect match. He’ll do what he can to keep his distance, but there’s just one problem—he’s starting to believe Cisney’s magnetism is stronger than he can resist.

Purchase links for Calculated Risk: http://zoemmccarthy.com/books


  1. Thanks, Zoe, for this beautiful post. You've given me something to think about! Helpful tips. :-D

    1. Thanks, Dawn. I hope others aren't as negative as I was at first about entering into friendships because of age or incapacities.

  2. I enjoyed your post, Zoe! I have enjoyed older friends and can related to your experiences. They have been a great blessing to me! Thanks for the practical tips.

    1. Hi Carrie,
      I've heard it is healthy to have friends younger, about the same age, and older to round out our life experiences. I've enjoyed doing so.

  3. Great advice Zoe! My friend in TX is 99 years old. She's not doing too well right now but hopes to live to celebrate her 100th birthday in May!

    1. Pam, I'm sorry your 99-year-old friend is not doing well. She's blessed to have you as a friend. I hope you can celebrate her 100th with her is some way.

  4. Great post Zoe with lots of helpful tips. Currently being in rehab(Nursing home with a good PT department) for my broken leg has been quite an adventure. At first I felt too young to be here - I'm only 63, while most of the residents are much older and more infirm. I ate in my room and pretty much kept to myself for the first week. But then I made the choice to go to the main dining room on a day when I felt at an emotional low and I ate with two new friends - one a 70ish woman who was also in rehab and her roommate - a 90 ish former teacher who was suffering from dementia. We became fast friends and now eat all our meals together. We go to all the activities together and just being able to get out and around people has improved my outlook tremendously. My fear wasn't the age, but the infirmities. My mom had Alzheimers and frankly, I wasn't sure I could handle being around those who may have mentally debilitating dementia and weren't very high functioning. But it's funny how quickly all of the patients who frequent the main dining room have become my "family" as I always try to smile, wave and talk to them by name at meal times or in the halls as they mill about. This has truly been a growing experience for me. I have become an encourager here and their responses have encouraged my heart, lifting and healing the loneliness and isolation I felt my first week here.

    1. Bonnie, what a ray of light you've become in your difficult situation. I admire you for making the first step (wheel?) and recognizing God's blessings to you as you bless others. Thanks for sharing your story!

  5. Thelma had a rich history, and Zoe documented some of Thelma's recountings. Reading the stories back to Thelma produced more stories. Thelma liked to work jigsaw puzzles. Zoe would find the large piece ones we could put together in a morning. I too enjoyed Thelma. She had a strong faith and an impish sense of humor. I encrypted my notes to her because she was a cryptogram wiz.

    1. Thanks, Marcia, for reminding me how much she loved receiving your letters. We did have fun with Thelma when you came to visit.


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