10 things the church should know about seniors

Ruth Kennedy, a member of the Knowles Senior Center knitting and crocheting group, sews a patch over the Christ the King logo on one of the hundreds of shirts and sweaters donated to Fall-Hamilton Elementary School in Nashville, Tenn., in 2007. The uniform donation was to help poor children comply with the public schools' new attire policy. (CNS/Tennessee Register/Theresa Laurence)

Senior Life

1) We are the precious asset that never shows on the financial report. Like any treasure, we should be tended well and invested wisely -- and we will yield a valuable return. After all, we shaped the community into what it is today. We articulated the vision of what it should be and developed the programs that serve its members.

2) We are the historians with long memories. We recall a world and a church that have changed radically over the years. We hold a lot of more personal memories to share as well: the people who have touched our lives, the history of the local community and its members who have been gone for many years, what life was like before TV, computers and cell phones. Listen to our stories, and we will learn from them together.

3) Although we mourn many losses and read the obituaries daily to see who else has left us, we are, some studies have shown, surprisingly happy. The older we get, the more we make peace with who we are and what we have accomplished. We have left behind our inhibitions and don’t feel we constantly have to live up to other people’s expectations. We can flirt without being misunderstood and are free to extend a hug easily and often.

4) A lot of us no longer move with ease; some of us depend on walkers or wheelchairs. We need for you to make sure there are spaces in the church to accommodate those aids. We need parking spots close to the church door, ramps or sturdy railings where helpful. Couldn’t you set aside a few front pews where Communion will be brought to some of us and provide some seating spots with no kneelers for those of us whose arthritic knees complain under pressure?

We could often use a volunteer to give us a hand with ordinary household tasks that are now beyond our abilities. Some of those tasks are quite simple. I think of a woman who just needed a neighbor to walk her faithful four-legged friend and companion when she no longer could do that without fear of falling.

5) Our hearing is not as keen as it used to be. Pay careful attention to your sound system and to those who use it. See that those who speak do so slowly and clearly -- and that includes the musician who announces the hymns!

Our eyesight is not as good as it once was, either. Many of us no longer drive because glaucoma has limited our peripheral vision or macular degeneration our central focus. Driving at night becomes impossible when cataracts turn approaching headlights into a blinding glare. Evenings may be the best time for working people to attend parish events, but some daytime programs would be a boon to us. So would a group of volunteers who would get us to doctor appointments, the grocery store and, of course, to church.

6) We need to be missed. Sometimes when we are no longer able to get to church, people assume we have moved into smaller quarters or a nursing home. A regular bulletin reminder to make a phone call to the folks who are missing from their accustomed place in a nearby pew can begin to restore regular contact. Surely any community can enlist a corps of volunteers to keep in regular touch with folks who are homebound or in nursing homes, either by phone or in person.

7) We need to get special attention when we are recovering from an illness. Most communities are good about visiting people in hospitals, but not so hot on follow-up. I know a woman who broke her hip. Someone visited her in the hospital, but when she returned home after therapy in a nursing home, she heard nothing from her church. Yes, she could have called, but she didn’t want “to be a bother.” Happily, a friend had no such qualms.

8) We need to keep in touch with other older members of the community. News about where and how they are would be welcome. One parish had a wonderful idea: an annual “Homecoming Sunday” for people who can’t get to church regularly. The office mails out invitations to a particular liturgy, followed by phone calls that include an offer of transportation. The event ends with a brunch catered by volunteers.

9) We need to feel useful. After a lifetime of caring for others, it’s hard to be always on the receiving end. We may not be as physically gifted as we were when we were young, but we still have much to offer to other people.

For one thing, we can offer the support of our prayers. Let us know about anyone who is in need. Urge us to support those who exercise leadership in our religious and civil communities; enlist us as prayer-partners to folks in the RCIA or kids preparing for Confirmation. Think of the number of homebound folks in your community, and calculate the power of prayer just waiting to be tapped!

Making the phone calls that are the bane of a busier person’s life is another chore we can easily take on -- both to another person’s benefit and to our own. Assign us the job of checking on the whereabouts of missing elderly people.

10) We need to invest in the future. Not ours, of course; we know its limits. Find ways to connect us to the youngsters in this community. Teens especially need solid relationships with adults other than their parents, for adolescence is a difficult time for both of them. Enlist members of the youth group to give us an occasional hand or to gather a bit of oral history about the community’s past, and let nature take its course. Honorary grandchildren can never replace the real thing, but we can enjoy the same nonjudgmental relationship with them. Or try to link the youngster with a bent for a particular skill or possible career with an adult mentor. Invite us to share our own faith journey in religious education programs.

Carol Luebering, author of Coping With Loss: Praying Our Way to Acceptance, is a consultant for establishing bereavement committees and coordinated outreach to the sick and shut-ins. Contact her at jncluebering@juno.com.

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