Clergy Should Visit Elderly People To Help Ease Loneliness And Grief
By: Clark Morphew, Staff Columnist, St. Paul Pioneer Press
When my father died on the day after Thanksgiving, he was blind, deaf and riddled with cancer.
My children and I drove to his home in Iowa that day to arrange for his cremation and plan a modest memorial service in his boyhood church, which he had not been in since his own father's funeral 40 years ago. The family will bury his ashes in a quiet ceremony on Father's Day.
My father was hard-working and honest, the kind of person who holds up the nation with everyday devotion to duty. He was spiritual kin to millions of others who take the lumps of life and move on without complaining or blaming anyone.
And while my two brothers and I grieve, we also realise that this good life had to end, not just to erase his suffering, but to open our eyes to all the sorrow around us.
That is the magic of grief. If a person can step outside their personal grief during this season of joy, they will see the vast suffering that plagues our world.
And during the holidays, our grief gets magnified. We want it to go away, disappear into a healing fog from the nether world and never be seen again. If you've lost someone dear to you, Christmas may be the time when all the pain and grief returns. Instead of joy, many of us spend our holidays wondering why life turned out to be such a load.
Here's the other thing I've been thinking about. Somebody has to take responsibility for older people. Many people took care of my father. My older brother and his wife, who live in the same small town, were magnificent caregivers and eased his suffering in many ways. People in his apartment complex looked in on him every so often and provided company and comfort in the last three months of his life.
But the churches in that little Iowa town were mute and useless. No clergy came to visit my father during the four years since my mother's death. It's true that dad was not a churchgoer, and even when we suggested he take advantage of the low-cost senior citizen lunch at the United Methodist Church, he refused with a kind of bitterness that made me think someone in church hurt him a long time ago. We were left wondering why clergy never stopped by to visit him, even for a couple of minutes. I believe clergy ought to be evangelizing their communities every chance they get, dropping in on senior citizens who, like my father, have some vague connection to their congregation.
So, when it came time to make arrangements, my brothers and I decided those clergy who failed dad so badly should not have the privilege of burying him. My younger brother had served United Methodist congregations as a supply preacher. I have a dozen years of experience doing funerals. We decided to conduct the memorial service ourselves.
And we'll use the grandchildren as readers and ask them to talk about their relationship with their grandfather. We'll sing a couple of hymns, pray for strength and then have a piece of cake and some coffee.
I write this not as a judgment against clergy but as a reminder to some people of the cloth that older people need their attention. So very often, these old warriors try to look as if they are doing OK. The bills are getting paid, they're upbeat and looking forward to the next day. But in truth, many are lonely, afraid of the future and struggling to make financial ends meet. They want the comfort of the church, but they are not going to beg clergy to visit them. They want to speak of their grief to some understanding soul but, too often, nobody cares.
So they sit alone in their little homes, wishing for a phone call or a visit. There are so many wonderful people who take their personal time to visit elderly people. But there are never enough. And if the clergy are not doing their share, the people of the parish may lose interest in doing their own selfless service.
The last thing I've been thinking about is what happens to a man when his father dies. Somebody told me that's when a guy starts growing up. I'm now the one leading the charge. So I wonder what will happen to me and my two brothers. Will we finally grow up, or just keep making the same mistakes until our demise?
Further, what does it mean to finally grow up? I wonder if it means that we eventually will have the wisdom and strength to die with dignity.
Columnist Clark Morphew (firstname.lastname@example.org)