Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 19, 2006
Honour our elders' wisdom
Newman course opens participants' eyes to seniors' wealth of experience
By BILL GLEN
Patricia Gartner found the week to be "well rounded."
"There are myths about aging," said Gartner, a social worker and community outreach coordinator for St. Michael's Healthcare Services. The service operates St. Michael's Long Term Care Centre, a facility with 140 beds for long-term care and seven for sub-acute care.
"Even with someone who has dementia or Alzheimer's, there is wisdom hidden in them," she said. "It actually is an honour to be able to work with that sector of society."
Gartner agrees that society undervalues the elderly typically because age is seen as a weakness. "There are many seniors who are very productive."
Aging is about losses and decline, Sandmaier said. We must consider turning the losses into gains by honouring a person's life in that they were a blessing.
"God's love is timeless. We are just pilgrims on this earth," she said.
Sandmaier recalled a widow who said her husband had a habit of tossing his chewing gum wrappers on the floor. She found it annoying until he died. She longed for an opportunity to pick them up again.
"Looking at her is to value the moments we have. Tiny irritants aren't so bad."
Kate Madsen is a mother of five children and a full-time student at Newman, in her final year of a bachelor of theology degree. She enrolled out of personal interest.
"This has affirmed and changed beliefs I had about the elderly and aging. The key thing I'm walking away with is that we have to respect their dignity," Madsen said.
"In our culture, we tend to treat the elderly like children. As they age, they may become more child-like - and I think our response is to treat them like children. But we can't do that because it takes away their humanity and wisdom."
There has been a reversal in her parents' relationship, where her father was the caregiver until he took ill and the role became the responsibility of her mother.
Madsen said her mother rejected it at first, but her faith helped her rise to the occasion. "Watching her make that journey in her faith has been very moving for all of us in the family. It has strengthened my faith too."
Sandmaier would like to see the elderly more involved in parish ministry.
"We tend to think of how we can minister to them, but let's get them involved too. They are lonely and they have much to give," she said.
"The elderly are part of our rich tradition and the ones who are mentoring us into faith."
Society values individuality and strength, but the Christian message is that we are all connected, she said.
"We have to see that we all have a place together."
And when a loved one dies, Sandmaier says it is important to remember that grief is a process and not a state. Grief allows us to let go of what was and to prepare for what is to come.
"We have come to believe grief has a beginning and an end. But when we lose someone, it is forever," she said.
"All we can learn is to put it in perspective. Life is to live and we must go on living."
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