"Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent." ~Psalm 71:9
“You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord." ~Leviticus 19:32
|Carl from the Disney Pixar movie "Up"|
Several years ago, when my children were still in Catholic grade school, we made the habit of attending the daily 7 AM Mass at our parish. The daily Mass crowd, made up of many of the elderly members of the parish, delighted to see children at prayer, and my family quickly developed many friendships among those we'd pray with each day. One woman in particular, Mrs. B., easily became our favorite. Mrs. B., the mother of 13 children, treated my own family as though we, too, were her own flesh and blood. She'd send cards and money to each of the children on their birthdays, attended their 8th grade graduation Masses and Confirmations, brought gifts at Christmas and throughout the year, and best of all, lavished us with deep embraces from which we continue to feel the warmth to this day. A few months ago, I attended a funeral Mass for a beloved priest from my former parish who had passed away. I chose a discreet seat in the back of the church, and during the first song when everyone turned to the back of the church for the entrance procession, Mrs. B. spotted me, left her seat near the front, and came to sit next to me. She held my hand for the entire Mass. Mrs. B. is so easy to love!
But not all elderly adults exude warmth and joy so easily. In my young adult days, early in my dietetics career, I worked as a food service director at a nursing home. Many of the residents I served seemed discontent and dissatisfied, constantly complaining and criticizing, so much so that I came to fear them, cringing as I waited to learn what it was that my staff and I were doing wrong that upset them so. As I grew older and watched my own parents age, I came to better understand the general dissatisfaction of this generation who worked so hard their entire lives, only to struggle during their senior years as they are forced to give up all that had been important to them in this world including their material gains, their health and their relationships. That kind of forced detachment is enough to bring out the cranky side in the kindest of souls.
Others are truly the tragic victims of elderly abuse and neglect. After giving their entire lives over to the care of their children, they now find themselves alone, forgotten and unloved. Facing major decisions regarding their health and their living environment, they choose to remain in the one place that brings them security-their own home. Closed in upon themselves, their world becomes small and they are filled with fear that won't be eased. Loneliness, regret and sorrow become their daily bread.
In this month dedicated to prayer for the elderly, I'm challenged to step out of my comfort zone, to reach out to the elderly people I know, to offer them love, affection and kindness. Won't you join me in showing love and concern to people in their "golden years"? Could you bring your children for a visit to your nearby nursing home and listen to the residents share stories from their youth? Perhaps you could bring a meal to an elderly neighbor? Might you offer a ride to church or to a doctor's appointment for someone who is no longer able to drive? Would a gift of service doing housework or yard work for someone whose strength no longer allows them to keep up with basic chores be appreciated?
As we dedicate the month of February to prayer for those who are older and wiser than we are, let's not forget to follow that spiritual prayer with the prayer of action, and show our love for the elderly in our midst with our words and our deeds. Life is an amazing adventure-both the good and the not-so-good parts of it, and the older and wiser people that God has placed in our paths enrich our adventure with every interaction we have with them. Let's make sure we do our part to share in the lives of the elderly who are with us now, before they're gone, and we, too, are filled with loneliness, regret and sorrow.