The plan is to provide a location for such elders from various backgrounds to come together and plant their own respective vegetables of choice according to the new urban green concept. Wood chips and compost were heaped upon an unused part of the asphalt parking area for the growth of crops which could be harvested quickly. It becomes a wonderful project to bring the elders out of their homes and a place to meet others in a pleasant and respectful atmosphere. They intend to build a greenhouse over the plot for future winter gardening as well.
Then, there was a formal pastoral visit to one of the large suburban parishes near Milwaukee. In my customary meeting with parish staff and parish council I asked about the needy of the area only to learn of their significant concern for isolated elderly. Again children had moved to other parts of the country, and the availability of independent transportation was diminished.
Longer life expectancy coupled with ailments and infirmities often make their world grow smaller. The economic downturn which has decreased their annual incomes while retaining the burdens of property taxes and the costs of medication often becomes deeply worrisome. Children and grandchildren are terribly busy with family and work … and these folks also feel isolated and alone.
Finally, last month I had the opportunity to meet with about 18 representatives of the Association of Pastoral Ministers on Aging (APMA). It was a fascinating conversation as the various parish representatives … pastoral associates, retired social workers now volunteering at the parish level and parish nurses … spoke about the elder parishioners whom they serve.
The members of APMA lamented the loss of the special coordination for their ministry previously provided by one of the staff of Catholic Charities. It was a valuable resource no longer available. I wondered if highlighting their need in this column might surface a different form for what would assist their work with and for the elderly.
When all is said and done, life brings its own blessings in the “Third Age” as we now call retirement and living into a mature age. The phase can also bring burdens and worries. With the graying of America and the large group of longer-living parishioners, we have some wonderful opportunities for new service to this group of wisdom figures in our midst.
The mobility of our culture has produced a new generation of children who grow without the blessings of contact with grandparents who know what’s important for kids and who have an opportunity to do some marginal spoiling. Maybe our parishes can provide opportunities for both, especially when using the time and wisdom of their local volunteers.
Facilities such as St. Joseph’s Home in Kenosha or St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care in St. Francis bring elders and children in day care together in a way which offers blessings and vitality to both groups.
A recent issue of the publication of the Columban missionaries focused on their mission worldwide “with and for the elderly” (December 2008). Article after article stretched my mind to see the grace of this work far beyond the boundaries of our archdiocese and our American way of life. This is part of being human and indeed everyone’s opportunity.
Another magazine, namely the “Living City” published by the Focolare movement out of Chicago listed seven ways to live a full life at 93 (June, 2009). The litany was truly delightful! It included pictures and quotes from nonagenarians who insisted that their emotional and spiritual health was nourished by: 1) maintaining an enduring sense of giving to others (especially items no longer needed), 2) constantly cultivating new friendships, 3) maintaining a rhythm of daily prayer, 4) paying attention to new ways of healthy exercise and nutritious diet, 5) maintaining good order among possessions and tastefully beautiful clothing, 6) making an effort to continue learning throughout the years and 7) staying well connected with friends and family by calls, cards and even e-mail! The list makes sense for people of any age.
Rethinking through those three conversations reminded me that being pro-life includes every aspect and stage of life with all its blessings. Elders may have special needs worthy of attention at the parish level, but they also offer more blessings than we can ever imagine.