Life in Community

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Life in Community

Eldercare at the Bruderhof

January 17, 2019 by

Elias as a young boy
Elias as a young boy

Last Sunday wasn’t a good day for Opa Elias: his Alzheimer’s was getting the better of him. Elias has a large coterie of care-givers and companions – there are always two assistants on call – but nobody could help him shake the funk. So after the morning’s choir practice, I dropped by Opa’s house with my two-year-old. Behind Opa’s hospital armchair is an enormous basket of toys. My son pulled out the basket, put puppets on his chubby digits, and waved them in glee. Opa woke up, and his struggle with the symptoms dissipated as he reached out and playfully pulled at the puppets. On and off, on and off went the puppets. Talking and laughing, the eighty-year-old and two-year-old carried on for a good twenty minutes until both were ready for a noon-day nap.

Opa Elias is tough. He’s lived frugally and served generously his whole life and now he’s putting up a fight with Alzheimer’s, so it’s the younger generation’s turn to serve him. We are one of many families who are happy to claim Elias and his dedicated and loyal wife, Lydia, as our own grandparents – they do not have children of their own. Actually, we are only part of their extended family of three hundred people here at the Spring Valley community.

Elias and his wife Lydia as young newlyweds

To experience the level of care that Elias receives is not only heart-warming, it’s mind-blowing. And that’s why I want to describe it to you. Two families have moved into apartments that flank Elias’ spacious digs for the sole purpose of always being there for him. “Being there for others” is hackneyed in theory, but in this case it’s practice. In addition to these two couples (who provide friendship, company, spiritual support, and practical help such as cooking and an extra hand for bathing, toileting, and getting the wheelchair up the hill) a rotation of five young men provide twenty-four-hour companionship and nursing care.

When Elias isn’t resting, his days are rich and varied: visits to the communal workshop where he enjoys assembling small parts (work that’s been saved specifically for him), invitations to the school for recitals and productions, paying and receiving many visits from others on the community or in the neighborhood, nature rides out in our wooded valley, all the daily communal mealtimes, meetings, and celebrations, and always friends dropping by in the evening to say goodnight.

Elias smiling in a photo taken several years ago

So how is it that Opa Elias is receiving round-the-clock, state-of-the-art care, the care that every old person deserves? I don’t know, but here’s a thought. Many decades ago, when he was young, energetic, and strong, he decided to heed the advice Jesus gave another young man at the beginning of the first century: “Sell what you own, gain treasure in heaven, and come follow me.” A little further along in that same chapter (Mark 10) Jesus tells Peter, “There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother, or father or children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the good news who will not receive a hundred-fold now in this age…” For Elias, Jesus’ promise is coming true – and we’re lucky enough to be counted among Elias’ hundreds of brothers, sisters, mothers, and children. My two-year-old certainly thinks so.

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About the author

Jordanna

Jordanna Bazeley

Jordanna Bazeley lives at Spring Valley Community with her husband, Johann, and their four children, as well as Kizzie the...

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  • Heartwarming article. I love the way the Bruderhof takes care of their own, right to the end of life. A throwback to the “olden days” before society institutionalized elder care.

    Grampa John
  • great to hear obout Elias! I shared work with him at times in the bakery in Ibate, Paraguay. I`d love to work with bees and share/teaching "new/old" bee-keeping with interested "bee-fans"!!! hope to hear from you! Shalom

    Konrad Kluever
  • Ya wow I remember talking with Elias when I visited Deerspring back on the 80's we made pineapple upside down cake together!! It was great!' Also some awesome talks at the shop and with Lydia. Greet him from us also Lydia. I think I met your parents there ? Jeremy & Mengie?? God Bess all there on the communities. Keep up the great articles too,

    Wyatt Shane Welch
  • The Bruderhof communities are amazing in how they live out the gospel. I am sure it is very challenging at times but rewarding. Thank you so much for the article! Amani, Liz

    Liz Papcun
  • I love your advice I hope I can follow up on it

    veena