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Charla Ink Slingers Offering your suffering Respect Life Respect Life Month

When Life Gets Old

elderly3Isabel, ninety years old, bed-ridden, unintelligible, unable to communicate, afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. This is my grandmother—now. To see her now arouses pity, but to have seen her THEN… Oh what a woman she was.

She wasn’t the spunky, sassy kind of lady that was strong and daring. No, she was different and strong in her own way. She was not worldly or proud; she was, however, kind and generous with what she had and with what she was able to give, and that was all of herself.

She loved to feed people. Walking into her house afterschool, watching her make tortillas, peeking into her refrigerator. “What can I get you? What do you want to eat?” My grandfather’s lunch on the kitchen table—a sandwich wrapped in foil, a pickle spear, a side of beans and chile. She prepared for me a homemade hamburger on sandwich bread; my mom came early to pick me up, “But she hasn’t eaten yet.” She wrapped it in foil. “Here, take it with you, Mihijita.”

She grew up poor and hungry. She knew how important it was to be fed. I walked into her house when the disease had started to set in. She said she had gotten so busy that day—laundry, cleaning, cooking. Then she felt “that feeling”. “What feeling was that, Grandma?” “You know, that feeling I felt when I was a little girl… I got so busy, I forgot to eat.” Her memory of childhood was hunger. She knew how important it was to be fed. She is on a feeding tube—now. She can’t eat; she forgot how to swallow.

She loved to care for people. She would rub my sore shoulders and legs. Give me atole when I had a tummy ache. “Grandma, the baby kicked a cactus and there are needles in his little toes. What do I do?” She’s the first person I called. She would have been a great nurse. Ironically, she needs full time nursing for herself—now.

“Grandma, help me hem this bridesmaid’s dress.” “Grandma, those new blouses with the lace on top are so pretty, but expensive.” “Ooh– I can make you one, Mihijita.” And she did. She made me clothes and helped me fix the ones I had. Now we bathe and dress her.

I remember her devotion to God; she prayed the Rosary, went to Mass with the little piece of lace pinned to her hair. She always said, “God bless you” or “God be with you.” I admired her devotion. She can’t really receive the Eucharist now– only a morsel to dissolve on her tongue.

Isabel, ninety years old, bed-ridden, unintelligible, unable to communicate, afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. This is my grandmother—now. Her life seems so inane, so futile, so desperate now.

gma1But I cannot define her by this latter portion of her life, five years out of ninety. Her life is defined by it all: the care of a wife, mother, grandmother, friend. She prayed for me and my entire family daily. I know in my heart she still prays, even if she doesn’t know. She suffers; she suffered. This suffering has purpose and brings her closer to God. She looks at each one of us with a look of love, even if she doesn’t know who we are. So, I will stroke her hair, wash her, bathe her, dress her to show her I believe she is still alive in there– all the while I pray for God to take her to His kingdom, in His own time. She deserves it.

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Abortion BirgitJ End of life Ink Slingers Respect Life Testimonials

Why age doesn’t matter in life

My sweet 'Mutti'

I used to give my sweet mother a birthday card for my birthday. I would tell her she should be the one to get credit for that day because all I had to do was show up; she did all the work! Of course, I never hesitated to accept cards, gifts, or sweets for myself either!

As a child of the late 50s, I didn’t realize the entire weight of my mother’s accomplishment of carrying me for nine months and then giving birth. It wasn’t until years later, when Roe v. Wade was handed down, that I really appreciated what my mother had done for me. As much as a hero that mothers in years past were, today’s mother may just give them a run for their money. After all, today there are “choices.” Choices which aren’t just easily obtained, but encouraged in many quarters. Motherhood is optional now. Life has become cheap–or expensive, depending on your perspective.

Motherhood is not the only aspect of life that has been greatly diminished, however. Again, I can’t help but think about my relationship with my mother. As an immigrant from Germany in her thirties, my mother was in for a bit of culture shock when we moved to the United States. Our household in Germany had consisted of both immediate and extended family: her mother, uncle, and grandfather all lived with us from time to time. We even brought her uncle Joe over to the States with us and he remained in our home until he died of asthma a few years later.

Yours truly and 'JaJa'

Back then, living with extended family reflected Europeans’ attitude of respect for their older family members. More mature family members were sought out for their wisdom and experience; it was understood that the relationship is a give and take proposition. As the younger couple maintains the household through both career and housekeeping, the elder members share in the day to day duties as well as being very good pacifiers for the children in the home. I have many happy memories of my great-uncle ‘JaJa’ and the valuable lessons he taught me under the guise of story-telling.

Fast forward to our entry into America and all of that changed. Television shows, commercials, and popular attitudes spoke of a differing value system. Youth was worshiped and the elderly cast out. I remember my mother once saying, ‘in America the children are Kings, the mothers are Queens, and the fathers are Step-Children. The older generation is the worst off, though, they have no value at all!’ In today’s American culture it’s easy to see what she picked up on so long ago. Television shows portray the children saving the day as the authority figures, whether parent, teacher or police, are rather inept. Most everyone seeks to be young and the youth, in their arrogance, think that they own the world. Beauty products, foods, entertainment, fashion – they all cater to the teens and twenty-something crowd. Both the very young and the middle-aged (or older) are caught up in the ever growing drive to retain/regain youth.

Nana and me

While it is certainly not undesirable to be the best you that you can be, there needs to be a check valve in place. Life is a series of steps – all leading to a goal. Heaven. Seeking that for which we are not yet ready or trying to go back to what once was, is not a healthy goal. We were born to grow – physically, mentally, spiritually. Embrace the progression. Be yourself – the best you, you can be – and you will have far less disappointments and failures. Give value to those who have gone before you. It is fortunate, indeed, to have the wisdom of someone who has ‘been there, done that’ as an example for our future choices. We are all in different places of our journey, but we can learn and grow together – each giving of what they themselves have to offer.

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Christine End of life Faith Formation Ink Slingers Offering your suffering Prayer Respect Life

Note to Self: Age with Joy

If I’m going to run the race, I want to finish well.  As soon as the end is in sight, I want to push myself even harder and faster until my feet cross the finish line. Truth be told, I’m no runner. I’m more of a walking, hiking, stroller-pushing, anything but running type.  However, I think “running the race” is such a perfect analogy for our lives here on Earth… to not give in to distractions that will make us lose focus, to give it everything we’ve got, to finish well. The prize that I aim to win is no blue ribbon. It is heaven.

Can I be “for real” with you? All of us are going to die some day. Most of us will grow old. Growing old means our bodies may become less mobile and less obedient to our will. You may find yourself struggling to thrust your body out of bed in the morning or you might have a hard time folding your joints in half when getting in and out of a vehicle.  Games like Twister and Limbo could be deadly and you may actually find yourself purchasing LifeCall, the product notorious for the catchphrase “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”

As we age, we will likely experience more aches and pains, and perhaps even intense physical suffering.  These are not necessarily easy things to embrace. I’m in my late twenties now, so I’m not exactly elderly yet. “Spring chicken” you say? Well, not quite. Sometimes my body doesn’t do what I tell it to do, sometimes I have unexpected aches and pains, and I even found out at my last visit to the eye doctor that I have the beginning signs of macular degeneration (which apparently is something that only people over the age of 50 are supposed to have to worry about- yowza!) Thankfully, as Catholics, we recognize the beauty of suffering and its redemptive quality. Physical pain can be both beneficial for our own souls as well as the souls of others. How beautiful! How beautiful that Christ could turn the torture device of the cross into a means of saving our souls and opening the gates of heaven to us!

There are few things in this world which make my heart ache more than the sight of an elderly person overcome by loneliness and fear, sorrowfully waiting until death arrives.  Likewise, there are few things which propel my soul heavenward more than the sight of an elderly person living life to the full despite, or perhaps because of, their suffering. Can you think of an elderly person in your life who lifts up your spirits? Someone who lives with great joy despite rejection, illness, and other hardships? I don’t know about you, but these are the people, who I think are running “so as to win”. They are living with joy until the very end.  They are giving it all they’ve got until their tired, old feet pound across the finish line. That’s who I want to be when I grow up. I want to be a wrinkly-falling-apart-happy-old-lady, filled with the joy of the Lord and the knowledge that I gave this race all I had.

I’d like to give you two concrete examples of what I’m talking about… one from the public realm and one from my family:

 1) Blessed Pope John Paul II

This holy man showed us by example how to age with peace and joy.  Though he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, he continued to love and serve Christ and the Church to the full. If I may borrow Pope Benedict XVI’s words from his homily at the ceremony in which Pope John Paul II was beatified, “Then too, there was his witness in suffering: the Lord gradually stripped him of everything, yet he remained ever a “rock”, as Christ desired. His profound humility, grounded in close union with Christ, enabled him to continue to lead the Church and to give to the world a message which became all the more eloquent as his physical strength declined. In this way he lived out in an extraordinary way the vocation of every priest and bishop to become completely one with Jesus, whom he daily receives and offers in the Eucharist”.

For a brief overview of the life of John Paul II and how he embraced the will of God with joy and enthusiasm, I highly recommend the movie Pope John Paul II with Jon Voight and Cary Elwes.

Image taken from: http://persecution.in/content/gcic-celebrates-blessed-john-paul-ii-champion-religious-freedom

2)      My grandfather

My Papa cares for his Alzheimer’s stricken wife, my grandmother, with immense joy and love. Alzheimer’s, as many of you may already know, is a progressive degenerative disorder of the brain.  My grandmother is in the final stages of this disease. Comparable to the care required by an infant, she is totally dependent on the care which my grandfather provides. Day in and day out for over fifteen years he has tended to her at home, even finding joy in brushing her hair and occasionally putting a bit of lipstick on her lips.  I have never heard him complain. On the contrary, he often smiles and jokes about how much fun they’re having together.

Less than two weeks ago, my grandfather was diagnosed with prostate cancer. It is still uncertain if it has spread outside of the prostate and what his exact treatment will be. Do you want to venture a guess what his most heartfelt wish is? He doesn’t want to die before my grandmother because he simply wants to be able to care for my grandmother until the end of her life. I wish I could express to you in words the character of this man- both the tremendous strength and the deep tenderness with which he loves.  He has given me a great example to live by in so many ways- faithful, lifelong marriage; embracing life; and aging with grace and joy. Please pray with me that if it is God’s will, he will be able to care for my grandmother until her very last breath.

When I am a shriveled up old lady swaying in my rocking chair reflecting on days past, I hope that I can honestly say that I embraced life, with all of its crosses and victories.  Rather than be self-absorbed in pain and suffering, I want to continue to love and serve the Lord and those around me with all of my heart.  Should I need a reminder of these goals forty years down the road in the midst of my pain, let me write myself a friendly little reminder- “Note to self: Age with joy!”

“I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…” Henry David Thoreau

Feel free to comment/answer below: Can you think of an elderly person in your life who lifts up your spirits? Someone who lives with great joy despite rejection, illness, and other hardships?