Fulfilled living in later life
Crossing the Downsizing Bridge

Wednesday 9th September 2020

Crossing the Downsizing Bridge

Louise Morse

Months of Covid isolation at home and missing help from friends and family have made many older people think about downsizing and moving into sheltered housing.

Deryn van der Tang was one of our most experienced housing managers, and it dismayed her to see at times how sometimes people had to move in a crisis, because they hadn’t recognised their needs or were unwilling to leave their family home. ‘Cross the bridge and don’t stumble on the rocks’, she advises here:

There is a small bridge over a burn in Scotland that tumbles down over a rocky cliff into Loch Lomond. That bridge is a memorial bridge to someone who has already ‘passed over’. What an appropriate symbol of the last stages of life. Isaac Watts’ hymn, Time, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all its sons away”; reminds us that our lives are like that burn, bringing us another day closer to our ultimate end of life here on earth.

Why we are reluctant to think about old age and crossing that bridge? Without the bridge there is a greater challenge to cross the burn with its rocks and boulders. These obstacles represent our fears, losing our independence, not being in control, ill-health and the unknown manner in which we will be ‘passing over’. Will we suffer? Are we sure of our faith?

A steep rocky path led up to the bridge and the fear of falling was real. Just like our latter years, we become frailer and unsteady on our feet. It is an uphill struggle to keep on top of everything; we tire easily. Once you reach the bridge it is level and has rails to support you making it easy to get to the other side.

How can we confront those fears that make the last stage of life so difficult? The most important thing is to accept that we have no control; our lives are in God’s hands. He has set the days of our lives. God was there when we were conceived and has allocated our days (Psalm 139), and we have no control over those two dates. We do have some control over the quality of the days we are given.

Firstly, we need to be sure of our standing with God. This is the time to build a closer relationship with our Saviour, having the assurance that we will be safe and secure in Jesus arms when we reach the other side. Our faith will help us to face the dark and difficult days that may lie ahead.

Secondly, to make the pathway easier you need to plan for these years. Recognising your body will age and you will require some help enables you to be pro-active in selecting suitable accommodation before a crisis forces you into a place that others choose for you. Having your name on the waiting list of a place of your choice will give you peace of mind that should a crisis occur, you have a plan which others can follow.

Another boulder of fear is being isolated and abandoned. Keep your relationships sweet with family and friends. If you are alone, choose a community where you can have fellowship with others who share your common faith and values. Watch a short film on the effects of being lonely.

Are your possessions hampering your struggle up the steep pathway? Let them go - you can’t take them across the bridge. Give them to people or organisations you choose, otherwise someone else will have to deal with them. This may not apply to you, but to someone you know. Do let them know that we are happy to help them make this big transition.

As well as care homes, Pilgrims’ Friend Society runs independent living housing schemes which might be the right next step for you or others you know.