It had to be the coldest day of the year, but there she came with her head wrapped snuggly with a beautiful brightly colored scarf, her long woolen coat that hung loosely over her severely curved back but with a look of sheer determination as she walked through the door of the chapel. I greeted the 90 year old at the door and asked if I could help her. Her old, but kind eyes looked up at me as if to say "don't you know?" I had forgotten it was the first Friday of the month and she had come to light her candles - after all that was what her mother had taught her and she never forgot .It was a tradition that had been passed down to her.
Being careful not to be obtrusive, yet feeling a need to assure her safety, I stayed quietly in the background giving her some time and space for prayer. As I watched her carefully light each candle, I was very moved by the beauty and grace of this woman as she knelt reverently in prayer. Even from my safe distance I could hear her heart-felt words - not asking for anything - but rather a sincere prayer of thanks for the many blessings she had received. It was not just a prayer, but the ease and comfort with which she spoke; she was having a conversation with a good friend.
I work in an older, inner city church where the majority of parishioners are elderly but they are the ones who continue their faithful practices of attendance at weekly services, lighting candles, reciting the rosary in addition to many other traditional religious customs that were probably passed on to them by their parents.
Among other traditions often passed down through generations is that of caregiving for our aging relatives. In my own family my mother often told me stories of my grandmother caring for her mother and as a child our home was a residence for not only my grandmother, but my grandfather and several uncles at the end of their lives. There was never a question of whether there was enough room; it was always an open invitation for whoever needed care; our home was theirs! It was also a time when families lived close by or at least in the same city.
In today's society families seldom stay close by; generations are often dispersed and traditionally the geographically closest family member bears the brunt of the caregiving duties. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, approximately seven million adults are long-distance caregivers, mostly caring for aging parents who live an hour or more away.
With families living so far apart from each other how are traditions being passed on from generation to generation? And what does this mean for the traditional way families used to care for senior family members? It makes me wonder, as the 90 year old woman offered her prayers of thanks was she also praying that someone will be there to care for her?
If you are a caregiver for an older adult, go to mmLearn.org for the most up-to-date and FREE online resources to help you in your role as caregiver.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Virginia Valenzuelz, MSW, MAPM
Virginia is a social worker with a real passion for the spiritual aspects of aging. She is a former mmLearn.org employee who now serves as a Pastoral Associate in a Catholic parish providing ministry to many groups, but in particular to the older parishioners. Her experiences working with seniors as well as caring for her own aging mother provide her many opportunities to help seniors in dealing with this important yet sometimes neglected aspect of aging. While we miss having her around on a daily basis we are grateful that she continues to be a voice for mmLearn by sharing her experiences of caring for seniors and her love of writing with us through her continued blog posts.