Together with another Little Sister I was invited to represent our congregation at a somewhat exclusive reception during the Christmas season. We were happy to bring two of our residents along with us. One of them, a 97-year-old veteran of World War II, proudly wore his best tweed sport coat and his VFW Garrison cap decorated with a host of ribbons. The other, an immigrant and artist, is the widow of a U.S. Navy veteran.
During the reception we sampled the luscious buffet, admired the beautiful Christmas decorations and met a few notable personalities. But what really struck me was all the attention and affection the partygoers gave our two residents, especially our retired airman. Women and men, both old and young, paused to let him pass through the crowd in his wheelchair, offered to wait on him and thanked him for his service. More than a few people knelt beside him to ask about his military experience and his life story, listening attentively as he sketched out the details of his long life. Our resident felt so special! He returned home beaming and is still talking about this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The reverence and esteem of the VIPs we met that day for our elderly residents was moving. “Thank you for your service,” they kept repeating. Without diminishing in any way the unique contribution of our veterans, it struck me that this is something we should be saying to all of our elders. “Thank you for your service … as sons and daughters, parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles. … Thank you for your service as educators, nurses, factory workers, engineers, farmers and businessmen. …”
More profoundly, we should thank our elders for their wisdom, their faithfulness and their selfless generosity toward us. We owe them a great debt of gratitude for all that they share with us and pass on to us — their faith, their life experience, their family history and the history of our communities and nations. We need to remember our elders, take a lively interest in them and offer them our support so that they will be able to go on contributing to the formation of new generations.
Pope Francis has often said that a people that does not take care of grandparents has no future. Let’s keep this in mind as we begin a new year, and especially as we gather from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco in January to march for life. These annual pro-life events commemorate the passing of Roe v. Wade in 1973, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in our country, so it goes without saying that they focus on the unborn. But the elderly need our protection, too.
The fact that physician assisted suicide is now legal in Oregon, Montana, Washington state, Vermont, California, Colorado and Washington, D.C., should drive this point home as we pound the pavement for life at these events. I would like to propose that after we have marched for life this January, we return home and reach out to the elders in our family, our neighborhood or our local nursing home to say thank you — thank you for giving me life! Thank you for your service to family, community and this great nation! Thank you for passing on your wisdom, your experience and your faith to my generation!
Pope Francis has said that he longs for “a church that challenges the throw-away culture by the overflowing joy of a new embrace between young and old!” In 2018, let’s help make his dream a reality!
Sister Constance Veit is communications director for the Little Sisters of the Poor.