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.