Hand-holding and words of love filled Mom’s last days. But COVID limited the time that she could spend with her family in the last year and a half and the isolation had taken its toll,” writes Rayanne Bennett, associate publisher of The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey. How we provide for the elderly is a question raised by Pope Francis in establishing World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly July 25. (CNS photo/courtesy Diocese of Trenton)
Responding to editors’ requests for a regular sampling of current commentary from around the Catholic press, here is a commentary titled “When The Monitor hits home” posted July 12 on the website of The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey. It was written by Rayanne Bennett, associate publisher.
Each month, when considering the subject of our cover page, we try to select something that is meaningful and applicable to the lives of our readers. Some covers come closer to the target than others, but this month is about as spot on as any that I can recall.
With few exceptions, most of us have grown up with one or more grandparents in our lives. We likewise know elderly people from our parishes, neighborhoods and workplaces. If we are so blessed, we have become or will become elderly ourselves. And so, the decision of Pope Francis to establish World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly and to call us all to look with fresh eyes on the state of older persons is universally relevant to each of our lives, no matter where we are in our journeys.
For me and my family, the Holy Father’s words about grandparents hit particularly close to home. You see, we recently gathered with my mom at her assisted living residence to celebrate her 87th birthday.
While we all knew of the health problems she had been battling and recognized how frail she had become, we were all happy that the day was filled with smiles, hugs and words of love. We were not prepared for the cruel reality that just four days later we would have to say goodbye to her.
Mom died surrounded by family members July 1, but she had just come through a very difficult year or so, much of it spent with that same loneliness and sense of isolation that Pope Francis mentions in announcing this year’s special designation.
Mom’s senior apartment building did not allow visits during the COVID-19 shutdown, and she dismissed multiple invitations from several of her children to go live with them.
Though her ability to live on her own was declining, she held tightly to her independent apartment and strenuously rejected attempts to move her to an assisted living facility. That is, until she had one too many falls that required rehab and the assessment from caregivers that she could no longer live alone.
For her children, her grandchildren and her sisters, the past 15 months have been very challenging. Attempts to secure appropriate care and obtain complete and correct information from health care providers have been exercises in frustration and worry. It seemed that few among those who were responsible for mom’s health and safety actually seemed to care about her and her needs.
Perhaps most jarring throughout this experience is the wonderment of “what if?” We considered the sobering questions: “What if we weren’t here to make all these phone calls and try to advocate on her behalf? What happens to those seniors who have no one to do this for them?”
The answers can be quite chilling.
The first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly July 25 could not come at a more critical time. Too many grandparents are being left behind because they can’t keep up with their families’ busy lives and schedules; too many of the elderly are suffering from the isolation they endured through COVID-19 and now battle fear and depression; too many older persons do not feel that their thoughts and suggestions are well-received and worthwhile — because we are not showing them that they are.
It is my most profound hope that our readers will learn about and support this new effort spearheaded by the pope. It is my wish that we, in the Catholic community, can set a powerful example of how we value those who possess the “gift of age.”
And it is my heartfelt prayer that every family cherishes each moment with their elders, for we never know how or when they will slip away from us.
The views or positions presented in this or any guest editorial are those of the individual publication and do not necessarily represent the views of Catholic News Service, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, or the Superior Catholic Herald.