I’ve often wondered about the average age of those who listen to David and Allyson’s podcast. I would guess — although the Sweeneys would know better — I would guess that they have a wide range of audience — but most would be in their 30’s and 40’s. What do you think?
I ask about this because if this is true about the age range, then it’s likely that almost none of the audience has had to face the tough, tough decisions related to putting a parent into a nursing home. It may sound like a down-subject, but please stick with this column. I had to face this issue some years ago with my mom. She had end-stage congestive heart failure and she cycled in and out of serious ‘health-crashes.’ The medical team at the hospital under the direction of mom’s doctor pretty much decided that she would be passing soon. But it could be a week or a month or more. I was the only child left from our family and we lived on the west coast while mom lived in Detroit. My wife and I both had careers so it was a guilt-ridden time in our lives. We placed mom in an east-Detroit nursing home where she had some good days and some days of labored breathing.
Eventually, mom did pass and we had the funeral Mass at her church (Queen of Peace in Harper Woods, Michigan). The Mass was celebrated by mom’s favorite priest, Fr. Lentini who had known and pastored mom for many earlier years. We then faced the quick decisions necessary about shutting down the physical presence of a person’s life. We put her condo up for sale… my wife Dee and I went through her things.
A lot went to a nearby monastery which had a thrift shop for the needy. Many larger things we shipped to our daughters and to our own home in the San Francisco area.
As I said, this may sound like a not-so-pleasant topic to be writing a column about. Well — there is a purpose to this, and first I share that in this kind of time in your life, you do what you have to do and you move on. Mom has had more Masses said for her… she (and my late father and brother) are mentioned almost daily in my own Mass intentions. So overall — I hope and feel that mom is in heaven although I still pray for God’s mercy for her.
This topic leads me to another story that I really wanted to share with you. As deacon, the pastor has asked me to visit a nearby elder-care nursing home. I take Holy Communion to a group of eight to ten residents. One of the men is a priest who is struggling with what would appear to be an early form of dementia. He wants my help to ‘leave’ this facility. I told him I can’t do that but that I would be happy to come and be a deacon if he did a daily Mass in his room. As I left him, he said, “Come here – let me give you my blessing.” He laid hands on me and gave me a great and meaningful blessing. It was very nice and pastoral of him.
But here’s the real heart of this column and the story I wanted to get to. One lady — I would guess her to be about 70 or a little more… she is in nearly full-blown dementia, and she’s in a lock-down area.
I’ve taken her Communion several times. And recently – she’s been sleeping and refused to get up — she hasn’t wanted the Eucharist. The other day, I went through my rounds, and when I got to this lady, Eleanor’s room, her door was firmly shut. It seemed odd. So I went to the nurse’s station and asked about Eleanor. The attendant said, “Oh she’s sleeping a lot and she doesn’t get up until about lunch time.” I looked at my watch and it wasn’t even eleven AM yet… but I decided to see how she was doing. I knocked on the door — and woke her up.
True to recent practice, she didn’t want to receive Holy Communion and she said she didn’t feel very well. Rather than leave her — I asked if she’d mind if I said a prayer over her? She didn’t refuse so I blessed myself and her and I recited the Our Father. She became a little bit more ‘present’ to this visit and I started talking to her about how things were going. She told me — in a rather confused narration that she didn’t feel very good most of the time… but that she really loved the Catholic Church and the Mass. She kept calling me ‘Father,’ even though I had told her I was a deacon a couple times.
I struggled to keep conversation going — asking her where she was from before Arizona. The answer was Indiana — from South Bend. I asked if she was from near Notre Dame and she smiled and said, “Oh Yes!” I asked her about her parish and about any priest she remembered back there. She did have a church name that came out quickly — and she mentioned a priest name a couple times. She said she loved it when he said Mass.
Now what I want you to know is that during a part of this more animated conversation, she had taken one of my hands and she kept holding on to it. She became more interested in what we were talking about although, quite frankly — her mind did wander. But she was enjoying the sharing.
Finally — she took my other hand — she held both of my hands quite tightly. It would have taken effort to remove my hands. She started saying, “Thank you… thank you for coming to visit me. I’ve enjoyed this so much. Thank you.” She was very animated and her face looked radiant for these moments.
And as I watched her speaking to me – it came to me in a firm image that this was Jesus. He said he’d be the one we visit when we visit the sick and the dying. He said it would be Him whom we visit in prison. He said we wouldn’t always recognize Him — and sometimes we won’t get the reward that I got the other day… because you know what happened to me?
Jesus wouldn’t let go of my hands. It was awesome!