Monday, February 03, 2014

February 3: My Brother's 83 Birthday

Today, my brother is 83. I can’t get to him because of the snow. He has serious dementia and will not know it is his birthday. I called Harbor House in Oyster Bay, N.Y. where he has been for the last 11 years and told them that, indeed, this was the day, but that I could not get there for the snow. I wanted to give him absolution again for whatever in this life, and I think he knows what I’m doing. If there is a spark of ex opera operantis, I want to get ex opera operato to him.

            I feel bad about having him warehoused even though it is an objectively excellent place. The women (and the few guys) taking care of them really couldn’t be better. But as Josef Pieper writes: “The observations of Rene Spitz have become fairly well known. He studied children born in prison and brought up in scarcely comfortable outward conditions by their imprisoned mother. These he compared with other children raised without their mothers, but well-equipped, hygienically impeccable American infants’ and children’s homes by excellently trained nurses. The result of the comparison is scarcely surprising: in regard to illness, mortality and susceptibility to neuroses, the children raised in prison were far better off. Not that the nurses had performed their tasks in a merely routine matter and with ‘cold objectivity.’ But it is simply not enough to be able to eat to satiation, not to freeze, to have a roof overhead and everything else that is essential to life. The institutionalized children had all such needs satisfied. They received plenty of ‘milk;’ what was lacking was – the ‘honey.’”[1]

            Pope Francis commented in his conversations with Francesca Ambrogetti and Sergio Rubin: “The origin of the word ‘nostalgia’ – from the Greek nostos, homecoming, and algos, pain – has to do with a yearning to return, the Odyssey speaks of this. What Homer does through the story of Ulysses is light the say back to the bosom of the earth, the maternal bosom of the earth from which we sprang. I believe that we have lost nostalgia in its anthropological sense. But we have also lost it when it comes to teaching – for example, nostalgia for the home. When we put our elders in nursing homes with a couple of mothballs in their pockets as if they were an overcoat, in a certain sense our nostalgic side has failed us, since being with our grandparents means coming face-to-fact with our past.”[2]

­More Recently:

Vatican City, 23 November 2013 (VIS) – Elderly persons have always been active in the life of the Church, which must set an example to society of how they are always important, indeed “indispensable” said Pope Francis, who this morning received in audience the participants in the 28th International Conference of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers (Health Care Pastoral). The meeting took place from 21 to 23 November in the New Synod Hall and examined the theme “The Church at the service of sick elderly people: care for people with neurodegenerative pathologies”.

The elderly “carry with them the memory and the wisdom of life, which they transmit to others, and participate fully in the Church's mission. Let us remember that human life always maintains its value in the eyes of God, far beyond any discriminatory view”, emphasised Pope Francis. He went on to mention how the increase in life expectancy throughout the twentieth century has also led a growing number of people to be affected by neurodegenerative pathologies, which are frequently accompanied by a deterioration in cognitive capacities. These pathologies have an impact on social and health care both in terms of research and in assistance in social and healthcare structures, as well as within the family, which is in need of help and adequate services to care for the elderly.

The Holy Father reiterated the importance of a form of healthcare which “alongside the traditional biomedical model, is enriched by allowing space for dignity and freedom, far from the reclusion and silence that too often surrounds those in the healthcare environment” and, from this perspective, he spoke also of the importance of the religious and spiritual aspect, insisting on the need “to put into practice a particular pastoral approach to accompany the religious life of elderly people with serious degenerative pathologies, with different forms and content, so as not to interrupt the dialogue and relationship of their minds and hearts with God”.

Dear friends”, he concluded, addressing the elderly present, “you are not only the recipients of the evangelical message, but also, by virtue of your Baptism, its proclaimers in the fullest sense”.

[1] J. Pieper, “An Anthology,” Ignatius (1989) 31.
[2] Francesca Ambrogetti and Sergio Rubin“ Pope Francis – His Life in His Own Words,” Putnam (2010) 7.

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