Today’s question is one that I have found particularly difficult- ambiguous- challenging (what is the right word?)
Where is the line between handling something responsibly and overreacting?
How do you balance being caring with avoiding unnecessary drama?
Thankfully, our matriarchs have some really good wisdom to share, and I hope that you will chime in, too-
Got a question yourself? firstname.lastname@example.org
On to the question:
We have an elderly (89) widowed gentleman in our congregation. He has made no secret of the fact that he would like to find a wife, and that he is interested in someone much younger than himself. Over the years since his wife's death, he has made a few flirtatious forays at some of the women in our very small congregation (usually when they are new), but nothing too serious. Until recently. He recently appeared in a new congregant's kitchen one morning! (Small town, we don't lock doors) And he was a bit testy when she asked him to leave. She is now afraid to come to church! Since he has never done anything quite like this before, we fear that this behavior may be indicative of some type of dementia on his part. We want to do the right thing by both of them. Any thoughts appreciated.
It's possible that Widowed Gentleman might need practical tips on courting women in the 21st century ( showing up uninvited for breakfast is not cool.)
But more likely he is in need of a medical evaluation.
First question: Does he have any family nearby you can approach?
Second question: Is he looking for a wife b/c he is
b) in need of a live-in nurse,
c) is among the lucky elderly with an active sex drive or
d) all the above?
I've seen this before when singles (of every age) stop participating in church life because someone else in the congregation is interested and they aren't and it's easier to find a new church or just stay home. Church is not a dating service though (although singles groups in mega-churches often serve that purpose). Church is a spiritual home where we should feel (and be) safe both with God and each other. (Yes, theologically speaking, God is hardly "safe" -- See Tolkien for references.) But our worship space is called a sanctuary for a reason.
Assuming there is no family close by, take an elder with you to visit Mr. Widower. Remind him that loneliness - especially after losing a spouse -- is terrible and the congregation wants to support and love him. But he must know that his pursuits are making other members uncomfortable.
If loneliness is his basic issue, are there others (men and/or women of any age) with whom he might hang out? One church in our area has a group of men who meet for breakfast every Saturday at the local diner: The ROMEOs (Retired Old Men Eating Out).
If he dislikes/even fears living alone (and he needs someone to take care of him) perhaps he needs a home health aid. Or maybe he can no longer live alone and he needs to move. Again - this is tricky without family support.
Also, supporting the woman is an obvious no-brainer. She deserves to worship (and live) in peace. Talk with her also, again with a sensitive elder, so she is sure that her church supports her and cares for her. She might want to lock her kitchen door. And sit with a friend in the pews.
I would definitely wonder if this was health related. Sometimes very small strokes can cause an uptick in impulsive behavior. Does this man have any relatives? Children? Nieces and Nephews? Before calling the police, I'd call someone from his family, if possible, to share these concerns. Especially if the relatives are not local, this would be important info to pass on. If no one has actually seen or talked to "Uncle Joe" in a few months, they might not be aware that all is not well. This might be a part of a pattern of erratic behavior for him and having this info might be the thing that finally spurs someone --a family member or other care giver--to take action.
From Singing Owl:
I have an aunt who is 91 and very frail, but her cognitive function is remarkable. Not everyone who is of advanced age gets dementia, but it is true that the great majority of individuals in their 80s and above will have at least the beginnings of Alzheimer's disease. I don't want to diagnose, but someone doing something highly inappropriate and then being angry when confronted are two large red flags that dementia may likely be present. Depending on your state, the system for dealing with elders varies. In some states (Wisconsin is one) every county has a county aging unit, often called the Department on Aging, and that is your first step in almost any issue. There may be something called an area agency on aging. Locate whoever deals with elder issues in your area and ask their advice. The Alzheimer's Association people are everywhere, are usually excellent, and they will probably be more than willing to talk with you and give some valuable direction.
Is there family? If so, they may be concerned but not know what to do, or they may be unaware. Does he live with someone? Often the people closest to an individual with dementia are actually the last to realize that something is wrong because they have lived with the gradual change for some time.
My impression is that your elderly Casanova lives alone, there will be other issues- food issues, sanitation, finances etc. Someone needs to check. I hope he has kids who love him. I'm concerned for his safety. As for your new church lady, you can at least tell her that you are taking what steps you can to deal with this kindly. Calling the police certainly might be necessary if he gets aggressive (which is possible) but is not the best option, and I hope you can deal with it another way before things escalate. Of course, if it is necessary, do it. However, I'm thinking of an elderly gentleman who was found "exposing himself" (turned out he was just getting ready to pee in a corner, also not a good thing) and the poor man spent a night in jail after being arrested. Not all police departments would have done this, thank God. But if you can get appropriate people involved soon it may be possible to avoid difficult confrontations and get him the help he probably needs.
The woman has the right to call the police on this guy even if it is dementia. And you need to call the man's family too. And if no family, perhaps protective services. I can only imagine how that woman feels. You say it was harmless, but you are going by what was told you, but what was not told you? Are there some members of the church that are his friend, that can steer him into the direction he needs to go for help, or know his family?
This cannot be delayed. Church is not a place for flirting indiscriminately for a wife, like that. Now I know people have found their spouses in church and that singles group is often a place to get dates. But what this guy has been doing is not a Christian witness nor safe. We aren't made to be "Pastor Match Makers" either. Sometimes we have to do the hard thing to be clear with people what church is for, and what it is not for. Church is to be a safe place, a sanctuary, and not a place to be hit on, or worry if someone is going to show up our house to hit on us.
At the same time, when a person does become widowed or experiences a major change in life, they are like to do things they would not normally do. Or may need help as there are other issues going on perhaps medical, social, emotional, or mental. If you notice a change in behavior attitude, etc. then address it sooner not later.
What do you think?