I don’t have a lot of experience with elder care. I was in college when my maternal grandparents died, and they lived several hundred miles away at the time.
My paternal grandfather also lived several hundred miles away. My parents, praise God, currently are in the middle of a six-week driving tour of the Northeastern United States and probably in the best physical condition of their lives. It’s clear “slowing down” isn’t in their immediate vocabulary (d.v.).
I watched closely (again, sadly, from a distance) though, as my parents took care of my paternal grandmother, Rose, during the last three years of her life. After Grandma had resisted for years a potential move from her West Virginia home to my parents’ residence in North Carolina, my dad and his brother (backed up by their wives) double-teamed her one week in July 2006 and began the transition. It took them three days and two nights to make the seven-hour drive — and let’s just say that was the smooth part of what was to be a very bumpy next few years. Caring for someone in the last chapter of his or her life is never easy. The difficulties are only compounded when that person has been used to her own home, to her own independent lifestyle and to not having people around to make her do things like get dressed in the morning. In a lot of ways, it’s like being single well into your 30s. You get used to living life just the way you like it, thankyouverymuch. Or so I’ve heard.
Living in another state, I wasn’t around a whole lot, so it’s safe to say I probably know about 20 to 30 percent of what happened during those three years. But if there’s one thing I know 100 percent: It was very difficult for all involved. I also know this: That while there were occasional missteps, my parents lived a life of self-sacrifice while caring for my grandmother in her final years, and I am certain that sacrifice has gotten them closer to heaven.
Pope Francis speaks often of the importance of caring for the elderly with dignity. Just in March, he said that seeing the elderly only as a burden is “ugly” and “a sin.”
“An elderly person is not an alien,” he said. “The elderly person is us. Soon, or many years from now — inevitably anyway — we will be old, even if we don’t think about it.”
Soon, we will be them, just as surely as once they were us.
This issue profiles many model caregivers — the Faith story alone features four people who not only are caring for their elders, but simultaneously for their children. Then there are the Carmelite sisters in California who are raising money to expand their “neighborhood of care” — what they call their Catholic assisted-living facility. The sisters, said one resident, help immeasurably during the “scary” life transition. It is a story that is sure to touch your heart.
God bless them in this ministry, and God bless all caretakers who sacrifice themselves for the comfort and good of others.