“Let us not lose the memory preserved by the elderly, for we are children of that history, and without roots, we will wither. They protected us as we grew, and now it is up to us to protect their lives, to alleviate their difficulties, to attend to their needs and to ensure that they are helped in daily life and not feel alone.” The Holy Father gave us these words last year on the inaugural World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, inviting us to care for and journey with the elderly people we know. As our grandparents, parents, and older relatives grow older and approach the end of their lives, we take on the responsibility of caring for those who cared for us and raised us.
While there is justice in this act of caring for our elderly, it is not something cold and calculated (like our understanding of legal justice). It is founded upon the unconditional love of God the Father. Our grandparents, parents, and older relatives raised us, provided for us, and loved us without counting the cost, without expecting anything in return. In their old age, we as their children and once dependents return love for love as they now depend on us. We are called to care and provide for them and to love them unconditionally.
My grandmother was pivotal in the upbringing of my sisters and I as she helped to care for us when we were young. She taught us to pray and to love others through both the example of her gentleness and sweetness and through her instructions and corrections. She would give us treats, money, and gifts all the time. She would take us out, both individually and as a group, on little dates to the movies and for lunch. I have very fond memories of volunteering at tennis tournaments with her, and an entire summer break we spent together housesitting for my great uncle in rural Northwest Virginia. When I was in seminary, she would send me gifts and notes, addressing me on the phone or in writing as “our favorite seminarian.”
Signs of my grandmother’s disease that accelerated her aging came in years prior to 2020. Things took a turn for the worse that year–both before and after she was diagnosed. My mother made the difficult but beautiful decision to keep her at our family home and provide for her, and we have continued to do so. As things progressively become more difficult and she seems to be near the end, she is entirely dependent on others for her basic human needs. I have watched my mom and older sister grow in love by providing for her daily. I have been given the same opportunity when I moved back home. Although my grandmother is sometimes still reluctant to receive help and cannot always be fully present or say thank you, we give her our love unconditionally, and we know in various ways that she is grateful for our time and attention.
If you have someone in your life who is elderly, especially a grandparent, parent, or relative that helped to raise you, I invite you to recognize the importance of remaining connected to them. Provide for them in the ways you are able to and give them the gift of your time and attention, regularly and intentionally. The care which our grandparents, parents, and relatives gave us in our upbringing warrants our care in return, especially when they are in need. They made a sacrifice and gift of themselves to us when we were dependent on them, and we are called to do the same. As Pope Francis reminds us, “May we never regret that we were insufficiently attentive to those who loved us and gave us life.”