The spiritual needs of aging family members become especially crucial as their health declines and the end of their lives near. Family members, caregivers and the parish community play an important role in seniors’ lives by helping to meet those needs.
In a pastoral message called “Blessings of Age,” the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote, “The spiritual growth of the aging person is affected by the community and affects the community. Aging demands the attention of the entire Church. How the faith community relates to its older members—recognizing their presence, encouraging their contributions, responding to their needs, and providing appropriate opportunities for spiritual growth—is a sign of the community’s spiritual health and maturity.”
Michael Donaldson, the director of Pastoral Care for Families in All Stages for the Diocese of Orange, recommends a few ways that families can help in this area.
“Carve time out during the week to be with them,” Donaldson says. “Especially if they have grandchildren and that they have time to pray with them.”
He also suggests that the family make sure that the parish is aware that your senior family member may need their assistance and services during this time.
“The parish can help them get connected to a prayer chain,” Donaldson says. “Faithful parishioners will often be intercessors and pray for the sick and dying in their parish.”
In addition, the parish can also arrange that communion be brought to their home every Sunday by extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion or in some cases, a priest can be requested for the sacraments of confession or the anointing of the sick.
Donaldson says that some parishes with extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion will sometimes have a long list of people to bring communion to and the time frame spent with them can be short. Some parishes in the diocese developed a solution.
“A great example is connecting them with the Friendly Visitors program,” says Donaldson. “It was established to go more in depth to accompany and establish that ongoing connection, above and beyond the sacraments of the church.”
The Friendly Visitors program provides housebound parishioners with a team of two visitors for an hour or two a week. They provide friendship and help them to stay connected with their parish community.
In some situations, a senior family member may be in a hospice or a hospital, in which case, a hospital chaplain provides the sacraments and helps to meet their spiritual needs while the family is encouraged to continue to carve out time to visit and pray with them often.
Donaldson’s office also offers training and seminars throughout the year for caregivers and family members. One upcoming event will be on August 10. The diocese will hold an interactive discussion called “Fireside Chat with Dementia Experts.” It will cover aging, dementia, caring for those with memory impairments, end of life care and the role of spirituality in caring for a loved one. Register online at rcbo.org/events/fireside-chat-with-dementia-experts.
“So often our caregivers can be overwhelmed and they’re looking for ways to find support,” Donaldson says. “So we try to reach out to the family and build them up.”