Pope Francis has initiated a World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly which was held this year on Sunday, July 25th with the theme, “I am with you always” (Mt 28:20).
Speaking about the day, His Eminence Cardinal Kevin Farrell said, “The World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly is a celebration. We really needed it: after such a difficult year we truly need to celebrate, grandparents and grandchildren, young and old. ‘We should celebrate and rejoice’ says the Father in the parable. A new page opens after dramatic months of difficulty. Pope Francia invites us to take a step further, he speaks to us of tenderness. Tenderness towards the elderly is needed because, as the Holy Father recalls in the message we present to you today, the Virus ‘has been much harsher with them’. For this reason, the Pope hopes that an angel will visit, and will come down to console them in their solitude, and he imagines that this angel looks like a young person who visits an elderly person.”
Dr. Vittorio Scelzo added, “In these days we will launch a social campaign and invite everyone – especially the younger people – to tell about the visits and initiatives that will develop using the hashtag #IamWithYouAlways.”
Below are some of the kinds of tweets I found when searching this hashtag. It is wonderful to see this civilizing initiative of valuing the elderly more profoundly.
As the pandemic is being overcome, I am returning to this piece I wrote on March 16, 2020 weaving together Albert Camus’ The Plague with the contemporary events that were emerging with COVID-19.
Here’s the last paragraph of the novel with some lines emphasized:
None the less, he knew that the tale he had to tell could not be one of a final victory. It could be only the record of what had had to be done, and what assuredly would have to be done again in the never ending fight against terror and its relentless onslaughts, despite their personal afflictions, by all who, while unable to be saints but refusing to bow down to pestilences, strive their utmost to be healers. And, indeed, as he listened to the cries of joy rising from the town, Rieux remembered that such joy is always imperiled. He knew what those jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned from books: that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linenchests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.
“For the bane and enlightening of men…”
The word “bane” has the sense of “that which causes ruin or woe” and is related to the terms “killer, slayer, murderer, a worker of death.”
The word “enlightenment” has the connotation “‘to remove the dimness or blindness’ (usually figurative, from one’s eyes or heart).”
Has this COVID-19 pandemic in any way removed the dimness from our hearts?
“Plague” and “enlightenment”, which at first seem greatly opposed, are, in Camus’ understanding, more related that they appear.
Recently, I sat down with my friend Anna to listen to some of her stories.
It might surprise you that this young woman told me, “The happiest time of my life was working 16-hour days in a retirement home during COVID.”
“My body ached and my heart rejoiced,” Anna testified.
She spoke with such empathy about the elderly residents.
“Imagine! A person who has lived a hundred years might be reduced to ‘June at Table 20.’ The residents might have lived a long, fruitful life only to be reduced to their dietary preferences in their final months and years.”
Because Anna regards these seniors’ long lives with reverence, she does not like to see nor participate in taking such a reductive view of the human person.
Instead, she relishes doing her utmost to serve the residents and considers every conversation as an opportunity for a meaningful interaction.
“My favourite residents are the ones who would get agitated easily,” Anna told me. “And it became a challenge: ‘How can I make them happy?'”
Sometimes I wonder about how we will look back at this Covid period of our lives.
Will this time be regarded as “lost years” or “missing years”?
Will we be able to recall events clearly or will they be blurred, absent the ordinarily vivid and communal expressions of milestones?
And, will trauma and grief be suppressed by gradual good humour and selective nostalgia?
In The Year of Our Lord 1943, Alan Jacobs writes about the effects of the end of World War II saying, “As war comes to an end, and its exigencies cease, and people return to a freedom absent for so long that its return is discomforting, they think of the apparent lawlessness of Nature and Man alike…”
A few pages later, Jacobs says:
One of the most well-known Hebrew songs, Kol Ha’Olam Kulo has these simple lyrics:
The whole world
is a very narrow bridge
a very narrow bridge
a very narrow bridge
The whole world
is a very narrow bridge –
A very narrow bridge.
And the main thing to recall –
is not to be afraid –
not to be afraid at all.
And the main thing to recall –
is not to be afraid at all.
This evening I was speaking with one of my dear friends who is a doctor.
She told me, “I know you’re looking for uplifting stories for your blog, but lately I have been seeing a lot of elderly patients who have had bad falls. Since many of them live alone and are not able to get back up by themselves, sometimes they are not found until the next day or two. When that is the case, the person may be found sitting in their own feces or urine, profoundly helpless, until a support worker or relative comes to visit.”
Of course the best situation is when a vulnerable person can live in a family home so that their presence and wellbeing is continually and naturally monitored by their loved ones. The next best thing for the elderly would be to live in retirement homes where many services are provided and there are attendant nurses. This, however, is quite expensive and not within everyone’s reach.
On hearing about this from my friend, I remembered a recent conversation I had with a senior buddy of mine with whom I have been having weekly phone calls throughout the pandemic.
He and I have never met, but we have sure gotten to know one another through our Wednesday visits.
This gentleman with whom I speak just turned 90-years-old. His wife passed away last year and so he lives alone. Some of his adult children who live in town visit him and each week he brings his 88-year-old sister some shawarma.
This Mother’s Day Weekend, I attended mass in a church parking lot listening to Fr. Ken speak over radio from an Outdoor Chapel that was built by the Knights of Columbus.
My friend and I – as I’m sure is true of all parishioners – were saddened to hear from Fr. Ken that both his mother and father passed away earlier in the week due to COVID complications they suffered in the Philippines.
During the homily, Fr. Ken spoke a bit about his parents in connection to the Gospel and to Mother’s Day.
First, he spoke about how he is surprised by many of the memories being shared about his parents.
While his father was the friendly extrovert, his mother had been more discreet and introverted.
And so, Fr. Ken was not surprised with what people have been saying about his father but when it comes to his mother, he said he is hearing all of these new stories about her hidden generosity and thoughtfulness from so many people that he had not known she had touched.
Fr. Ken spoke about how his parents made a great team. His mother was good at business and sales and his father was good at networking and PR.
Today there is a very interesting piece published in The New York Times titled, “There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing.”
This article describes the paradoxical combination of restlessness and lethargy that many people are now experiencing as “languishing.”
It turns out the etymology of the word is “to fail in strength, exhibit signs of approaching death” and the word is derived from the Latin word languere meaning to be listless, sluggish, and lacking in vigour.
The whole New York Times piece is very much worth reading because the author is not only articulate in describing the phenomenon but is also edifying in proposing some possible antidotes.
Adam Grant writes:
Jozef De Veuster was a Belgian Catholic who asked God to be sent on a mission.
Having done his formation for the priesthood in Belgium, he was then sent to Honolulu and was ordained two months later.
He took the name Damien and began his priestly ministry in the Hawaiian Islands.
During Fr. Damien’s time, there was a public health crisis. Mortality rates were high due to infectious diseases for which there was no herd immunity. Chinese workers were suspected of having brought the disease to the islands. The outbreak was not well understood and experts were unsure as to how it spread, whether it could be cured, and whether transmission could be stopped. The government passed mandatory quarantine legislation, even sending some people to isolate in remote locations. The officials insisted that these were not prisons, but there was certainly not enough medical supplies or doctors and nurses. Some experts thought the lepers would be better off dead. One health official conjectured, “It would seem that even demons themselves would pity their condition and hasten their death.”
This evening my aunt, who is a primary nurse at the Rockyview General Hospital, shared with me a bit about her experiences as a nurse both before and amidst the pandemic.
In particular, she told me about a program initiated in 2015 called No One Dies Alone. This project of Alberta Health Services is a effort to ensure that any patient, who is without family or friends to visit them as they approach death, is met with some form of intentional companionship.
My aunt told me that, throughout the entire pandemic, she does not think anyone has died alone at her hospital. Most have had family and friends who were able to visit and for those who did not, they were accompanied by volunteers or clergy.