Missy Buchanan is a co-author of “My Story, My Song” with Robin Roberts, co-anchor of Good Morning America and Robin’s mother, Lucimarian Roberts. As an advocate for older adults, she is also the author of bestselling books, including Living with Purpose in a Worn-Out Body, Talking with God in Old Age, Don’t Write my Obituary Just Yet, and Aging Faithfully. Her book Joy Boosters: 120 Ways to Encourage Older Adults, was a finalist in Senior Homes’ prestigious Best Senior Living Awards. Missy’s newest book, Voices of Aging, features the inner voices of adult children alongside their aging parents. Haven recently had the pleasure of speaking with Missy Buchanan and asking her the following questions:
- When and under what circumstances did you receive the “nudge” to help older adults?
Like many older adults, my parents faced physical decline over time. Until their mid-80’s, they were very active and independent— exercising regularly, volunteering, driving to church, etc However, as they entered their mid-to-late 80’s, life became more challenging. Since I was the adult child who lived closest to my parents, I became their family caregiver and advocate. My brother and sister were always supportive and helped as best they could, but they lived over 200 miles away.
Even though my parents lived in a senior living community, my daily presence became increasingly important– checking on their well-being and attending to their ever-changing needs. No longer able to drive, they needed me as their chauffeur, their shopper and their extra “listening ears” at medical appointments. During that same time period, I began to notice a common theme among their friends and neighbors at the senior living community who were dealing with their own losses “I’m just here,” they would say repeatedly. It really bothered me that these precious older adults felt as though they had no purpose in life. That’s when I felt that nudge from God to do something to encourage older adults, like my own parents, who are struggling to find purpose. I began to write devotions first for my parents and their friends, but that quickly blossomed into a bigger audience. I started writing to encourage older adults everywhere who were going through a season of loss—loss of independence, loss of loved ones, loss of home and belongings
- Have you always had a gift for relating to older adults?
Since my grandparents lived with our family when I was a child, I grew up amidst the blessings of a multi-generational family. I remember thinking that my friends who didn’t have grandparents living with them were missing out on something special. I think that having daily interaction with my grandparents made me comfortable with the aging process and building relationships with older adults. I also benefited from watching my parents care for my grandparents as they grew frail. My parents also modeled compassion as they drove for Meals on Wheels, delivering food to elderly homebound, and regularly visiting older adults in nursing homes. As I look back across my life, I think God used my life experiences to prepare me for my own caregiving role as an adult daughter and now as a writer/ speaker on issues of aging and faith.
- Tell me why you believe that the spiritual health of older adults is often overlooked and why you think that is a vital part of their later years.
I will never forget the day that my aging mother confessed that it had been six months since she had been served communion. For my mother, a lifelong Methodist, the sacrament of Holy Communion was very important. I soon discovered that my parents felt a huge disconnect with the church they had served so lovingly for decades when they were no longer able to drive themselves to church. I was heartbroken and felt a load of guilt. Like countless other adult children, I had been so focused on my parents’ physical needs that I had overlooked their spiritual needs. I had incorrectly assumed that their church had been there for them but I was wrong. Too often churches unintentionally overlook older adults. It’s a matter of “out of sight out of mind.” For many older adults, the last few years of life are quite challenging, physically and emotionally. They desperately need to be reminded that they can grow stronger as disciples even as their bodies grow physically weaker.
Through the transitions and loss that comes with aging, I realized that my parents had been left alone as if they could draw endlessly from a spiritual reservoir. Don’t get me wrong. They were faith-filled disciples, but they desperately needed encouragement and daily reminders that they still had purpose… that they could still impact others for the glory of God.
- The “sandwich generation” has a great deal to contend with caring for their aging parents as well as their own young children. How do you encourage them and help them assist their parents spiritually?
I encourage each generation, younger and older, to try to stand in the shoes of the other in my newest book: Voices of Aging: Adult Children and Aging Parents Talk with God. Adult children need to understand the fears and concerns that their aging parents have, and the aging parents need to remember that their adult children are trying to meet the needs of careers, growing families and other responsibilities, too. I encourage both generations to crawl inside the minds of their loved ones and feel what they are feeling while also bringing God into the conversation. It is vital that both generations walk closely with God as they journey together through the uneven landscape of aging.
- How do you assure older adults that they do still have a purpose, no matter what their health status may be?
First I remind them that God has given them purpose until their last breath. I challenge them to consider a phrase I borrowed from Dede Casad, PhD, a woman in her mid-80’s. She says, “Seniors are ear-marked for special assignment.” Then I ask older adults a series of questions. What might your special assignment be? How might God be glorified by the choices you make today? Who do you know that you can influence in a positive way?
I remind them that people are watching and learning from them every day whether or not they realize it—caregivers, medical staff, neighbors, family members. So I challenge them to think about how they’d like to be remembered one day after they are gone. I also explain that even though they are physically unable to do things they once did, they can learn to serve in a new way!
- My father is older and in failing health. He recently told my mother that he thought that God had forgotten him. How do you address difficult questions/statements such as this?
It’s the reason the church needs to be active in the life of older adults, especially those who find their sense of purpose slipping away. They need to be reminded that our culture looks at aging differently than God does. Our culture values youthfulness and is all about “anti-aging”, but God has a counter-cultural perspective. He designed our bodies to age, so there must be purpose in that journey. Over and over in scripture, God shows how he values age. It is our role to help older adults look at aging as God does. Too often, they are left alone in the harsh days of late life to fend for themselves, in a spiritual sense. It’s time the Christian community steps up to surround them in love and encourage them as they continue life’s journey with a sense of purpose and value.
Buchanan has appeared twice on Good Morning America with Robin Roberts, The Harvest Show, WFAA-TV’s Daybreak with Ron Corning in Dallas, and on KVUE-TV in Austin. Missy has also appeared on many other secular and Christian television and radio shows. In 2014, Missy was invited by the American Society on Aging to lead a roundtable discussion on faith and aging at the Aging in America conference in San Diego and most recently was a keynote speaker for the National Boomer Ministry Conference. With humor and passion, she is also a sought-after speaker on issues of aging and faith for senior retirement communities, caregivers, women’s groups and churches of all denominations. She has traveled the country and even to South Africa and Scotland o encourage and challenge church leaders and older adults.
In the past, Buchanan has written a monthly column, Aging Well, for the United Methodist Reporter and has also written for Presbyterians Today, Mature Years, Mature Living, Christian Association Serving Adults Ministries and MinistryMatters.com. She is a member of the Committee on Aging and Older Adult Ministries for the global United Methodist Church.
A native Texan and former creativity educator, Buchanan lives in Rockwall, TX with her husband, Barry. She loves spending time with her three grown children and spouses, and her two grandsons and granddaughter.