Hello, all, and welcome to the Seniors' Sandbox provided to us by ParishWorld.net. Since my name is on the list of people key to the operation, I thought I would share my experience of getting old quickly, not necessarily graciously. In fact my sons tell me that grace, respect and elegance were the least of the qualities that shaped my "getting old" experience. Now that it is behind me and now that I am officially old, and still recuperating from the physical and emotional torture, I will tell you the story before I go back to work in the secular world.

June of 2008 was a nasty month. I was let go from a nice job for fabricated reasons, and in favor of a less competent replacement. Never one to let management gloat, I went out and found work inside of a month. It was a different world. I went from teaching, writing and planning Church events to driving an airport shuttle van six and one-half days a week, never less than fourteen hours on the full days. Then, Providence smiled on me and a fellow parishioner offered me a job opportunity in a medical transportation company. I passed all the tests (including the physicals) and all the interviews. I liked the people in the management and I liked the drivers who were soon to become my colleagues. So, in January of 2009 I went from driving fourteen to 18 hours a day to just ten or twelve, and those were the "long" days. I was thrilled to learn that Sundays were non-working days. Talk about hitting the jackpot.

On January 7, 2009, I hit the road for my training period with the senior partner of the firm. After a couple days I received my official employee identification badge. My number? 007. A license to kill! At the time little did I know that I would be the victim.
In the middle of the second week of training, I soloed. I was off and running. I weighed 170 pounds. I know that I made at least my share of dumb rookie mistakes. The management corrected those that they could and learned to live with the rest. I passed the probationary period test (6 months) and was kept on. The company was growing, so the decision to keep me was perhaps made a little bit easier because of that. It was during this growth period that the first customer with pre-dawn needs to be picked-up and brought to early morning dialysis treatments engaged our services. I quickly volunteered to do that work. I had two reasons: a] at my age (72), getting up at 2:30 AM won't be hard, and b] by doing what no one else wants to do, I'll have job security. You oldies who are reading this, know exacty what I mean. So I did it. Soon we went from having one or two such passengers to having four or five or more. Six days a week we had a van (mostly mine) enjoying having all the city streets quasi empty and all the traffic lights on the major thoroughfares green at 4:00 AM. It was fun. Plus, most passengers are a lot more loquacious at 4:00 AM than they are later in the day.

I did this until February 6, 2010. On Monday, February 8, I called in sick because I could hardly move from a generalized gout attack. I sat around the house all day. I crawled around the house in pain for two days. My mother-in-law died on February 12, in San Diego. We went. I could not drive. Belle, (my beloved spouse) fresh from surgery, drove. We viewed her mother before the morticians took possession of the body. She stayed in San Diego and our elder son drove me back to Kaiser Urgent Care in Riverside. I was getting old fast. After one hour, the doctors confined me to the hospital. I had to be wheeled to my bed. I will spare you the physical, mental and emotional adventures of my stay. Five days later I would be discharged from the hospital, a frail invalid of 132 pounds who could not do anything for himself. Now, that is old. Two weeks before my 73rd birthday. Did I get old graciously? Let me quote my son; "Pa, you must be the first person ever to get expelled from a hospital." (February 18, 2010)
"Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." (Job 1; 21)

I remember some of the thoughts that I had while in the hospital, most of them while I was lying on my back convinced that I would not be able to walk out under my own steam. I would say to myself, "What am I doing here? Is this what it is like to be in the hospital? Why am I here, there isn't anything that can be done to make me better?" Then I would turn my head and see my elder son, sitting in vigilance by the bedside. He was the priest that God had given me for the first three days of my stay. I would say to myself, "There are no words of gratitude in human language to express the emotions that I feel in seeing my son offering the sacrifice of love that I am presently witnessing." In the moments of lucidity that I had (very few over a period of more than ten days) I would tell him the same thing.
When his younger brother came to replace him, I told him the same thing. He turned it back on me and said, "You expect me to believe you while you're 'out of it'?" I actually remember laughing weakly at that.

Over the years I have suffered fiery physical pain from chronic gout. It was never as vicious as what incapacitated me during February and March of 2010. Over the same period of time I have learned the truth about incapacitation and pain. It's not mine to own, it's not mine to keep. Job, the foreigner, and Jesus, the God-obeying, Spirit-filled Jew, both knew that. Our human difficulties are our gift/sacrifice to God. Our bodies are the altar of the sacrifice where pain is offered to God so that he can use it to bring someone else's life closer to His. We say that pain and suffering are part of life. True. I firmly believe that pain and suffering are natural and supernatural realities of human life. Just like the grain of wheat has to die before growing and producing; just as the lamb has to die before becoming the protein and sustenance of other life, the part of our death that we feel in pain and suffering belongs to God so that He can harvest it and sustain another of His disciples in righteousness.

It has been about one month now that I have been perceptibly becoming more and more "normal", physically and emotionally. The doctors have been doing marvels. My indomitable competitive nature has not been shy about twisting God's arm to make Him make me a stronger missionary for His cause. I tell Him, "You kept me alive, so now make me better so that I can work for you. I don't mind the pain, take it, it's all yours. Oh, by the way, any time you want to invite me to take a walk with you back to the Garden of Eden, I'm ready. Just say the word." (Read Genesis, chapter 4, verses 23 and 24. I pray for that grace every day.)

I have gone back to the things I like. Sunday school for adults, writing for ParishWorld.net and preparing 90 minute conferences for adults on Biblical and Theological topics. Finally, I am hoping to be back at work in a week or two. I crossed the Red Sea into Old Age as a grouch. I am working at polishing my attitude and regaining my sense of humor. I count on you to pray for me.

I leave you with the simple thoughts expressed above. I hope that they will serve as food for thought. Low calorie, low cholesterol and sugar-free, of course.

Paul Dion, STL Theology Editor
Catholic Living Today in ParishWorld.net


The Gift of Allowing Others to Care for You

Graceful Dying:
The Gift of Allowing Others to Care for You

by Cheryl Dickow

The phrase “selfless love” is often associated with the ways in which a person gives of him or herself in union with another. Most particularly selfless love is at the center of marriage but is also found in close friendships and certainly in parenthood. It is about the ways a person gives of “self” to another — without reservation, without regret, without strings attached.

Most recently, it has become quite apparent to me that selfless love is also experienced when one person is willing to share his or her death with others.

My sister-in-law, Yvonne Dickow, was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer in late 2008. A longtime resident of California, Yvonne’s diagnosis forced her to return to her Michigan roots where family could care for her medical needs, which involved chemotherapy treatment, surgeries, countless emergency room visits, and numerous attempts to ease her discomfort and pain; and, ultimately hospice care in which peace became the goal and love became the only avenue upon which peace could arrive.

From the beginning the strategy was to fight the disease and the diagnosis to the bitter end. And “fight” is exactly what Yvonne did — and did it better than anyone could have imagined. But when it became clear that the battle was not to be won, the game plan shifted and the teachings of the Catholic Church on end-of-life issues took center stage, without anyone ever really noticing.

For instance, the secular world seems to truly embrace the idea that there is a “dignified” way to die and that being at the mercy and care of others for every need is not “noble.” After all, who among us wishes to rely on another for our personal hygiene or to help us with our normal bodily functions? There is no apparent or imagined dignity in becoming completely, totally, and utterly reliant on another human being. It is almost degrading — and it is certainly embarrassing, at least at the outset.

So when a person allows him or herself to become that “weak link” in the chain of life, he or she is actually becoming a conduit between heaven and earth. This person is saying, “This is incredibly difficult for me to rely on you, but I will trust that you have my best interests at heart and that you will not think ill of me.” In that way, the person in need of care is allowing the potential caregiver(s) to become mercy and love to another human being.

That is an incredible gift!

We may amass great wealth and thousand of friends but, in the end, we are going to be judged on how we cared for one another. It may be just one chance God provides or it may be a lifetime of chances. But our time in front of God, at our own death, will be a “life review,” of sorts, an opportunity to look back on how we responded to God’s call for action while we walked this earth.

How fortunate are we, then, when a person, in their end-of-life condition, allows us to act in ways in which we can best serve God — and ultimately our own eternal judgment?

The Catholic Church teaches that God gives life and God takes it away. It is meant to be on His timing and not of our own choosing. In the great wisdom of His design, He allows us to minister to one another in ways that can only be for our good — even when we think it is for the good of another. And when a person is in the end stages of life and opts to let God use those hours, days, or weeks they become anointed times for all involved.

For the past 18 months, I’ve watched as family and friends have ministered to Yvonne and can so clearly see how both Yvonne was blessed but also how each caregiver was blessed, as well.

The greatest act of selfless love is when one person chooses to share his or her own death with others. When one person is willing to count out the minutes at the hands of another, completely relying on the love and care that can be given but also becoming Love to the caregiver. Not in words or in deeds but in being an instrument.

As Yvonne succumbed to her cancer, I felt in awe of how brave it was that she allowed herself to share this most private experience with others. Her journey from fighting to peace became everyone’s journey. Everyone had a part and no matter how large or how small it was, Yvonne’s act of selfless love allowed everyone to act selflessly and thus be blessed. Had Yvonne opted for a quicker, less painful, more “noble” or “dignified” end to her life, all people involved would have lost out on opportunities to serve God by caring for Yvonne.

Christ’s love for each and every one of us was completely selfless. It is seemingly beyond measure and definitely something that is almost impossible to comprehend. As Catholic Christians, it is not often that we recognize our own opportunities to mirror that love but when we do, and when we respond, we become Christ-like.

We become His channel of love and peace.

Yvonne allowed so many to become love and peace and I am humbled and honored to have witnessed the immense love of her family and friends and to see the Truth of our Catholic Faith alive in so many people.

Cheryl Dickow is a Catholic publisher, author, columnist, and speaker. She is the co-author of All Things Guy: A Guide to Becoming a Man that Matters which has been endorsed by Dr. Ray Guarendi and Tarek Saab and featured in Bill Donohue’s Catholic League magazine, The Catalyst. Her publishing company is Bezalel Books www.BezalelBooks.com where her focus is to publish great Catholic books for Catholic classrooms and for family reading. She has a Master’s Degree in Education and lives in the beautiful state of Michigan.


A Wisdom Born of Pain

A Wisdom Born of Pain
By Fr. Ron Rolheiser

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it” (Mk 8:35).

John Powell once wrote a remarkable little book entitled, Unconditional Love, the story of Tommy, a former student of his who died of cancer at age twenty-four. Shortly before he died, Tommy came to Powell and thanked him for a precious insight he had once drawn from one of his classes. Powell had told the class: There are only two potential tragedies in life and dying young isn’t one of them. It’s tragic to die and not have loved and it’s just as tragic to die and not have expressed your love to those around you.

Sometimes only death can teach us that. Sometimes, through a painful conscription, we can learn it without having to die to pay for its wisdom. Here’s an example:

For twenty years, I’ve been teaching a summer course at Seattle University. One of the rituals I’ve developed during those summers is to spend the big American holiday, July 4th, with some family friends on Bainbridge Island, a short ferry ride from Seattle. This family has its own rituals and one of these is that it watches the July-Fourth parade off the front-lawn of one of their friends’ houses.

Four years ago, sitting on that lawn, waiting for the parade, I was introduced to the youngest daughter in that family. She was a senior in high school and a member of their state-winning basketball team, but she was also suffering from cancer and the debilitating chemotherapy treatments being used to combat it. Just 18 years old, weighing less than 100 pounds because of those treatments, she sat wrapped in a blanket (on a warm summer day), quiet and melancholy, while her friends, healthy and robust, drank beer and celebrated life. Things didn’t look good that day. The long-range prognosis was iffy, at best, and her body and spirit didn’t belie that, though friends and family did. She was surrounded on every side by attention, affection, concern, the sense that everyone cared. She was very ill, but she was loved.

I got to know her a little that day and somewhat more in the months and years that followed. Her family and others prayed hard for her, storming heaven for a cure. Those prayers, along with the medical treatments, did their work. She hung on, against the odds at times, slowly improved, and after many months emerged healthy, whole again, back to normal, except once you’ve stared death in the face “normal” is never quite the same again.

When she eventually returned to school, rejoined her friends in their social activities, and picked up the pieces of her former life, she knew that, while things were the same again, they were also very, very different. In the wake of such an experience, ordinary life is no longer something you take for granted, there’s a deeper joy in all things ordinary and a new horizon, wisdom, maturity, and purpose that wasn’t there before. God writes straight with crooked lines and sometimes cancer, terrible as it is, gives more than it takes.

Her new health is more than physical. It’s too a thing of soul, a colour, a depth, a wisdom. Asked publicly by her friends if, given the choice, she would give the illness back so as to have the life she could have had without it, she replied: “No, I wouldn't give it back. Through it I learned about love.” Like the young man in John Powell’s story, the love she experienced when she was ill taught her that there are worse tragedies in life than getting cancer.

Doctors who research on the human brain tell us that we only use about 10% of our radical brain capacity. Most of our brain cells never get activated, both because we don’t need them (they exist for wisdom rather than utility) and because we don’t know how to access them. The same doctors too tell us that, paradoxically, two things do help us access them: the experience of love and the experience of tragedy. Deep love and deep pain, together, deepen a soul in a way that nothing else can. That explains why Therese of Lisieux was a doctor of the soul at age 24. It also explains the wisdom that this young woman now lives out of, gently challenges her friends with, and radiates to the world.

Five years ago, a young girl had her youth and dreams stolen from her by a brain tumour. There was pain, disappointment, depression, some bitterness, little hope. Everyone seemed luckier than her. That was then. Today, a radiant young woman, Katie Chamberlin, strolls the campus of Gonzaga University, healthy, happy, preparing for a career as a teacher to special-needs children, and, more important, wise, beyond her years, having learned at a young age what most of us only learn when we die, namely, that ordinary life is best seen against a bigger horizon, that life is deeper and more joy filled when it isn’t taken for granted, and that love is more important even than health and life itself.

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 13, 2009 (24B), b
y Fr. Ron Rolheiser
Sunday Readings

Full story from ParishWorld.net
Currently, Father Rolheiser is serving as President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio Texas. He can be contacted through his web site, www.ronrolheiser.com.


What Sin is About? (Mooo!)

What Sin is About? (Mooo!)

Check out this great video excerpt from Fr. Larry Richards' talk. And get a handle on what it really means to sin.


Aging with Wisdom and Grace

Aging with Wisdom and Grace
By Dr. Maureen McCarthy

Retirement is a natural part of life cycle, just as aging is a normal aspect of living.

Even the newborn infant ages from one day to the next. The real goal of every human being should be to grow in age, wisdom and grace. Grace is the response to the daily blessings we experience, some which may be small, others great. To live with an awareness of God's grace is to possess a profound sense of awe, gratitude, a deep respect for all human beings and an appreciation of the ecology which, in fact, was created by God for all people to enjoy.

Jack Benny joked that life began at age 39. Some say life begins when you retire because you experience a new sense of freedom; others insist you age exactly as you live. We have all met people who are old at age 20 and seventy years olds, like former President Carter, who still builds Houses for the poor. The French say, "You're as old as you look!" Americans believe. "You're as old as you feel!" At age 86, Pablo Picasso said, "It takes a long time to become young!"

Therefore, aging is more than health and genetics. It is closely linked with attitude, activity, resourcefulness, prayerfulness and connectedness to others and the strengthening of intergenerational ties. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, commonly known as Mother Teresa, repeatedly stressed the need for love, even as she advocated that we should do small things with great love.

Some of the hallmarks of aging with wisdom and grace include the following:

* Do learn to see yourself as unique; no one exactly like you ever lived before. Identify some characteristics that you feel makes you unique; work on cultivating being loveable.
* Do regard retirement and aging as new opportunity to define yourself and toshare blessings.
* Do focus on reviving old interests and friends; seek new pleasures and the satisfaction that comes from volunteering.
* Be practical and realistic about life: learn about the normal processes of aging.
* Maintain a zestful and enthusiastic involvement in life. It is the best antidote to aging.
* Take time to be in prayer, silence and solitude each day with the Lord. He has promised "My peace I leave you, my peace I give to you."

Finally, the writer has been a long term caregiver, a licensed counselor, a licensed psychologist, university professor and at age 67, has just returned from 3 years and 6 months as a volunteer in Africa. She hopes to return to the missions and age with wisdom and grace.

Full story from Catholic Seniors


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