VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Religions share an understanding of the importance of caring for people's…
Modeling Christian love by caring for the elderly
My husband’s grandfather died on July 6 at age 85. When he opted for hospice care over treatment of his spreading cancer last November, we prayed his end might come quickly and with relatively little pain. Instead, his death was long, drawn out and much too full of suffering. Bedridden in the midst of a pandemic, there wasn’t much to do except watch TV and stare death in the face. Chugging down the track, be it slowly or at a speeding pace, it’s the same train that is coming for us all. What sets us apart as Christians is how we choose to face it. And this, my friends, is the great lesson that I learned over the past nine months from the man I am privileged to call my husband.
As John laid in his bed with little time left, but also nothing but time, Michael knew he had a golden opportunity: to help his grandfather prepare well for death. So he began making the six-hour round trip even more regularly from Indiana to Illinois, spending a few hours at his grandfather’s bedside to help prepare his soul to meet the Lord. Michael’s constant companions on his journeys were a shaving tackle, a rosary and the Eucharist.
At his grandfather’s side, Michael would perform a short Communion service and pray the Rosary. He arranged for a priest to come to hear John’s confession, and to anoint him more than once when it seemed things might be taking a turn for the worse. He talked to his grandfather about prayer and asked him if he had any regrets.
As pandemic restrictions began to lift in June, Michael pushed for John’s wife of 61 years, Betty, to be allowed out of the nursing home where she is a patient with Alzheimer’s disease in order to sit for a few hours at her husband’s side. The look in John’s eyes when he saw his wife for the first time since she had moved into her new residence rivaled the look of a groom gazing at his bride on their wedding day.
At one point during his illness, John told Michael he wished he had prayed to Mary more throughout his life — even though he had regularly prayed the Rosary. Then, about six weeks before he died, John confided that he was having trouble praying at all. It was then that Michael added a second daily Rosary to his own prayer regimen, literally praying for his grandfather — a fact I didn’t know until John’s funeral Mass. Michael spiritually carried his beloved Papa to the feet of our mother, asking her to intercede to her Son on his behalf.
Michael also made sure that John had a relationship with his great-grandchildren, and we visited whenever we were able and called even more frequently. Both kids loved Papa and prayed for him daily by name.
After many difficult days surrounding John’s death, Michael continued to model Christian love, staying with him as long as he was able to do so. After John’s passing, he once again made sure that Betty could attend the funeral Mass and the burial, where she was able to mourn her husband with the dignity she deserved, despite her illness.
On July 25, the Church will celebrate grandparents and the elderly in a special way. But my husband didn’t need a day on the Church calendar to tell him that caring for those who came before us is not only an obligation but a privilege. I am in awe of his witness, and I am grateful to God for this man who is a true model of Christian love.
Gretchen R. Crowe is editorial director for periodicals at OSV. Follow her on Twitter @GretchenOSV.