When I was a child and a young teen, I would go with my girl scout troop to rest homes to sing to the elderly. I never liked it. I didn’t like seeing so many old people just sitting there looking miserable. I told myself I never wanted to work with the elderly.
On the other hand, as a teen, I loved working with children. I babysat nearly every weekend. My sister and I would gather the neighborhood kids for events. I taught swimming lessons to children and coached an 8 and 9-year-old girls’ softball team. Working with children gave me life
Before coming to the Lord’s Ranch I worked at an orphanage near Mexico City for a year. I took care of children between the ages of 1-6. Later in life when I married, we had 8 children.
However over time, the Lord started to bring elderly people into my life. Some would visit the Ranch, and I began to enjoy their company. And later in life, my mother-in-law and father-in-law moved next door to us. My husband Mike and I, with the help of others, began the journey of caring for them in their old age.
That’s when I really learned about the elderly. Sometimes I was impatient, insistent, and would get frustrated, but I gradually learned to let the little stuff go and love them as they were. I realized how hard it was for them to grow old and that they just needed understanding and tenderness.
I read a quote by St. Jeanne Jugan around that time. She was the one who started the Little Sisters of the Poor. Their ministry is to work with the elderly. Jeanne Jugan told her sisters, “Spoil them all you can.” I would repeat that quote to myself over and over again.
With time my whole being and attitude changed. It became easier and sweeter. My in-laws and I would laugh together, and I didn’t mind hearing the same stories again and again. I stopped taking things so personally, and I began to see what a treasure old age was and enjoyed being with them. Mike and I cared for them until they passed away, and I am so grateful for that special time.
Also during that time, my parents, who lived in Phoenix, were growing old. My siblings in Phoenix were caring for them. I would go when I could to be with them. My mom had Alzheimer’s for 10 years. That was a difficult journey but even then I learned to move with God’s grace. My dad had a stroke but recovered somewhat and lived to be 96.
Now, even though my in-laws and parents are gone, I still have the gift of elderly people in my life. I call, visit, or send handwritten letters to the elderly in our community. I find them so cute in their ways and enjoy their stories, wisdom, and hearing about their worlds. I am often touched and humbled by their words, faith, and even their struggles. I’ve learned to listen, encourage, laugh, smile and to spoil them all I can.
It’s clear to me that we come into the world helpless and dependent on others, and so often we leave the world in that same condition.
Recently I was behind an elderly man pushing a cart in the grocery store. I was walking slowly behind him, and he turned around and said, “Why don’t you pass me, you still have a spring in your step.” He had a big smile and we had a nice little interchange before I moved on. Someday that spring will be gone from my step. For now, I am grateful I still have it.
Even though as I youth I didn’t want to work with the elderly, I am so glad God put them in my life. What a gift I would have missed out on. Their lives speak volumes in so many ways.
They are indeed God’s treasures.
Mary Ann / Mother Hen