This last week especially, has been filled with one-on-one visits with the residents: spending time with them in their rooms, meeting with them in the hallways, praying with them when they request a prayer. In these discussions, a few have shared that they live with chronic pain and some have conveyed a desire to return to their home but can’t due to failing health. Regardless of individual circumstances, the perceived lesson that comes through these remarkable encounters is the residents’ desire to be heard, affirmed and validated.
On reflection, I believe this need is a universal need and is a facet of who we are as spiritual human beings. When we reflect on life and its accomplishments and its joys as well as its sufferings, we want to know that our lives had, and continue to have, meaning and purpose. Asking an elder to talk about their friends and family, even about their careers, faith and hobby interests can convey a message of affirmation and dignity to our senior population and I believe the need for that affirmation becomes even more vital as one’s health and ability to verbally and effectively communicate decline.
So, where do I go with this lesson and what do I do with it?
I guess the biggest takeaways from this week’s lesson are the words patience, presence and purpose. Patience, in giving elders the opportunity to share their stories as many times as possible and as often as possible. Presence, to meet our elders wherever they are. If they are happy, I will rejoice with them. If they are sad, I will weep with them. And should they be lost in a moment of confusion, I will meet them in that reality and journey with them through that experience. Purpose, that regardless of their circumstances, affirm that their lives have meaning and purpose and whether verbally or through a gentle touch, I will let them know that they are loved.
I still cannot believe my time with St. Ignatius has come to an end. I shall miss this place dearly but I shall also take away many positive experiences and spiritual lessons.
To the residents of St. Ignatius: You have shared so much of who you are with me and have helped me to learn even more about who I am through your gentle wisdom. I am indebted to you all and take with me a thousand happy memories of our time together.
To Sister Maureen Lowry, RSM, St. Ignatius’ Pastoral Care Director: Thank you for your wisdom, knowledge and guidance regarding pastoral care of the elderly.
To Michelle Garrison, director of activities, and her staff, Fran, Nicole, Lily and Ginny: Each of you exemplifies the core values of St. Ignatius in your activities with the residents: Dignity of All Persons, Excellence through Compassion, Community through Transformation, Stewardship through Justice and Peace, and Concern for the Poor, and also Love.
To John Meacham, administrator of St. Ignatius: Thank you for saying “Yes” to my apostolic experience and for making me feel so welcomed.
And finally, a heart-felt “Thank You” to SM Annelle Velivis, local minister, and SM Agatha Cebula, director of mission integration at St. Ignatius: For your wonderful Felician hospitality, excursions around the Philadelphia area, visits to the Shrine of St. John Neumann, and excellent discussions and literature on elder care. Your care, compassion and concern for the elderly is boundless. Mother Angela would be well-pleased with your commitment and efforts.
Next stop – Felician Village, Manitowoc, WI. Cheese curds and string cheese – I need my cheese!