“What is our responsibility to our aged parents?” Ensign, Dec. 1975, 40–41
Dr. Victor Brown, Jr., commissioner of LDS Social Services
Wherever I travel in the Church, questions about our older brothers and sisters arise with increasing frequency. There is no doubt that this is a major concern.
By appointment of the First Presidency, considerable attention is being given to the circumstances of elderly members by a task committee working under the direction of the General Welfare Services Committee and the Presiding Bishopric. At this point one principle is very clear: we make a serious mistake whenever we treat old members as if they were either obsolete or objects of pity to be cared for but not included in the full range of our personal and Church activities.
The “world” has created a throw-away society ranging from bottles to diapers; regrettably, this is also too often applied to people. Some in our society respond to the elderly as though they have become of no value at age 65 (or earlier). This myth has convinced many older people—and their families as well that with advancing years they should become relatively inactive and retire, which can also be interpreted as “out of sight, out of mind.” The Church is not of the “world,” however, and does not share in this view.
It is interesting that the scriptures; when describing the happiest and most righteous periods in mankind’s history, refer to a society in which the spiritual, physical, and emotional needs of each person are adequately met. The Pearl of Great Price describes the City of Enoch in this way:
“And the Lord called his people ZION, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness.” (Moses 7:18.)
We infer from this that everyone is entitled to exercise his or her free agency in a situation of full activity all during mortal life—and indeed should have a prominent place in society’s activities in the later stages of that life. The productivity and usefulness of an individual need not be dictated by age. Quite the contrary! There is (or should be) a place for anyone who is willing to serve and contribute.
Older members of the Church are in a unique position to give and receive love and companionship with their children and other family members and to otherwise render service to their fellowmen. A considerable number of the volunteers serving in our LDS Social Services agencies are retired individuals or couples, providing a great service to those in need. Calls to serve in ward and stake positions are crucial. Elderly members make wonderful fireside speakers and influencers of youth, and all of us know of the contribution senior couples are making as full-time missionaries. There is a depth and wisdom among our older brothers and sisters that is greatly needed by those younger.
To discard some people merely because they have lived beyond a certain arbitrarily established age seems very wrong indeed. There is no righteous way to avoid the commandment “Honor thy father and thy mother.”
One of the most basic gospel principles is the sacredness of the family and its eternal scope. Too often the family is considered as being only mother, father, and children. However, no family that hopes to endure eternally can exclude grandmothers and grandfathers; neither should other relatives be forgotten, especially those who have never married or who have married but do not have children. These should have a special place of dignity; God forbid that any elderly member should be considered a burden.
Paul outlined to Timothy the stewardship of the family:
“But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite [repay] their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God. …
“But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” (1 Tim. 5:4, 8.)
Quite simply, then, the responsibility for the security and the continuity of activity in the lives of the elderly remains with what is called the extended family—the family beyond parent and child.
Every Latter-day Saint extended family, as part of their Family Preparedness Program, should plan and provide for the time when parents and others will grow older and eventually retire from the work-day routine. This plan includes consideration for financial security, adequate health insurance, and a properly prepared will. It should also include a determination to continue to serve usefully and vigorously in the Church, the community, and, most importantly, the family.
Of course, special problems require special help. In these situations, eternal principles of personal integrity revealed by the Lord teach that we first turn to our own resources, then to our families, and then to the Church.
There are very legitimate occasions where specific emotional, physical, or medical care in a rest home is needed for the elderly or for any other family member of any age. The Church does not sponsor rest homes or other types of what are called “residential care facilities.” These are considered legitimate private enterprises. When it is deemed necessary that a family member have institutional care that is beyond the individual’s or the family’s capability to provide, the local ward or branch Welfare Services Committee should have available a list of rest or nursing homes and other high-quality special-care facilities that are clean and decent. The ward Welfare Services Committee should, through the priesthood quorums and the Relief Society, monitor the services of these facilities and, if needed and where appropriate, financially assist the family in meeting the needs of members needing such care.
It must be emphasized that once in a special-care facility, a person is still a member of a family and a ward or branch. Never should our elderly members be shut away and left alone. There is considerable evidence indicating that the greatest barrier to social and Church activity by the elderly is not their health, but transportation. Every family and ward or branch can overcome this problem for these members.
According to the law of eternal progression, the end of our mortal probation should be better than the beginning. This means ideally that our last years should be our best, most enjoyable, and most productive. By properly applying the principles of the gospel and through stronger ties, this ideal can become a greater reality for more of our members, especially if Church officers and family members help our elderly Saints contribute to the utmost of their ability.