The post below original appeared a number of years ago as one of my columns for The Archdiocese of Edmonton newspaper, (Canada), The Western Catholic Reporter. The old man has since died.
“Do old men have dreams?” asked Jeanette as she watched her
88 year old father through the window of the cottage they rented for a week in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Bill Richards was standing alone on the deck looking across a pristine aqua-marine lake. It was dusk. The last vestiges of daylight were slipping behind a snow-capped mountain in the distance. This was the end of another day of more than 32,000 previous days that had passed in Bill's long life. There was something sad yet symbolic about the scene.
“Are you asking whether old people dream in their sleep?” I asked. “No,” Jeanette replied, “Do they have dreams ― goals, things they still imagine or want to do?”
Jeanette’s question was unanswerable, silly really, because everybody is different. I think we all have met old people who have given up on life while others celebrate every day to their last breath. (That’s not unique to the old. I have met people half Mr. Richards’ age who have given up on life while others explore everything living has to offer.)
At the root of Jeanette’s question was a sadness to see her once strapping and vibrant father slowly fading in old age. Was she projecting her sadness on to him? Perhaps Mr. Richards was not sad at all and was merely enjoying a beautiful scene that stretched out before him. Possibly God was speaking to him in the midst of the natural world as another day turned to night. If that was the case, then the real question was not "Do old men dream?" -- rather "Do old men still listen for that still small voice within them, they heard so clearly as small children?"
Jeanette was struck by a metaphor and poignancy of the imagery. It
was a moment that brought her underlying sadness to the surface. She was reminded that her beloved father was fading with extreme age, just like the day was fading to night. It broke Jeanette’s heart because she could not bring herself to think of life without him. Mercifully extreme age was giving her a warning and was preparing her for the inevitable.
Bill Richards’ wife of more than 60 years passed away a few years ago and he misses her terribly. He still lives in his own home. His arthritis is well controlled and so is his heart condition. His grandson mowes the grass in summer and each winter he shovels the snow from Mr. Richards’ walks. His daughter often visits and takes him places (like that vacation in the mountains). By all accounts, Mr. Richards is a fortunate man. He has lived a good life and is well cared for in his old age.
Even Mr. Richards’ 88 years in the world is a brief span of time. The Bible tells us that man’s life is like a mist that appears for a little while then vanishes (James 4.14). Saints Paul and Peter spoke of our bodies as tents ― a temporary abode. Our permanent home is in heaven. Our lives here are a preparation for the world to come. Mr. Richards cannot escape this reality but nor can Jeanette, or any of us. I hope that his last years are spent with sweet memories and expectant anticipation of the world to come and not regrets.
If Mr. Richards dies in peace and reconciliation with God, through faith in Jesus Christ, he can joyfully anticipate the Resurrection of the body (as he confesses in the Apostle’s Creed). He can rest confident knowing that Christians have always believed in the resurrection of the body and reunited with the human soul at the final Resurrection. The Catholic Church teaches:
“We firmly believe, and hence we hope that, just as Christ is truly risen from the dead and lives for ever, so after death the righteous will live for ever with the risen Christ and he will raise them up on the last day,” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No.989).
This resurrection of the dead is not figurative or wishful thinking.
Just as Jesus was physically raised from the dead so shall those who die with their faith in Him. Their immortal souls continue after death and their mortal flesh will come alive again at the resurrection and be reunited with the soul in a glorified state (See CCC Nos. 366 & 997).
For those of us whose bodies here on earth are degenerating either by disease or age, we can look forward to this. We shall be restored and live in glory with our Saviour. On this truth I stand with the Church in joyful anticipation.
On that day when Bill Richards was watching the sun set in the Rocky Mountains, God may have been talking through creation to Mr. Richards: "The sun sets, Bill, but it also rises."
[Click on image below or this link
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R23xW7xpm-Y for Sir Charles Mackerras conducting the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra playing Gustav Holst's "The Planets: Saturn, The Bringer of Old Age".]