About 10 years ago when I first joined the Episcopal Church, I never imagined I would be visiting, or even considering visiting seniors, in their 90s. My experiences with seniors had consisted of one grandmother, whom I loved, but whose advanced age made me feel rather distant from her. She and I shared a love of birds over a few weeks every summer. I explored her very interesting woods out back, and the pig farm far down at the end of the road, where my cousins and I admired and picked up the soft pink piglets.
At my first Episcopal church, I accompanied a fellow parishioner on a visit, which was then called Seniors Ministry. I doubted I would like it, but I had heard a lot about how interesting and how much fun this particular senior was. But I wondered: how much fun can you be past the age of ninety? And would I be overwhelmed by seeing in her advanced age my own mortality?
Since then I regularly visited two ladies, who were between 90 and 100, seeing them through to the time they left us to get their reward. Theirs were long lives full of nearly every possible ministry in the church. We often sat and spoke of those old days and how the church handled ministries back then, as well as funny anecdotes. All this was between lively discussions of current events and church news that included each of them, us, and their caregivers. We all had interesting and unique insights, but I found the seniors had the most interesting insights of all. One senior had come to Washington during WWII to work for the OSS, and had a father in WWI of whom she proudly showed us a photo, looking debonair in his WWI uniform. She was adorable, and how she made us laugh! My second and most recent senior was born in the DuPont Circle area where she grew up, playing on a playground that is still there. She became a schoolteacher in Washington DC and told us all about the trolley of those days. Both ladies were determined to show hospitality in whatever way they could during our visits; they also took a deep interest in our dreams and the events of our lives.
Neither of them ever complained about the pain they were in. Both had eyes that shone with a spirit that said they had not given up yet; they still had more to give to God.
I firmly believe that I got far more out of these visits than either of the ladies did. We read long portions of scripture, from favorite parts of Jesus’ ministry, to the plagues of Egypt through the deliverance at the Red Sea. I not only left each visit with an incredible richness inside, as if I had just eaten a sumptuous and nourishing feast, but I also learned about ageing and how I can hope to face it with the courage and valiance with which they did. And when each did pass on to get their reward, I knew inside that I had done all I could to ease their journey. In my heart I thanked God and I thanked each of them. I have never regretted any of those visits, nor the time I spent with either of them. It was a precious gift from God.