A few days ago, I made my regular weekly visit to the senior residence center where my parents once lived. While chatting with older adults who have become my friends, I scanned the dining room in search of a particular 94-year old woman, Edna. I had seen her in the hospital but the last update indicated that she would soon be moving back to her senior apartment.
I was about to ask a neighbor about Edna when another woman hurried toward me. “Missy, we just found out that Edna died… ten days ago!”
I gasped. Ten days ago? Why hadn’t someone told me? Why hadn’t someone told the residents?
Word of Edna’s death began to spread like a California wildfire through the residence center. Smiles turned downward as residents discovered that their friend had passed away. Most were outwardly shocked, not so much about her death, but that no one had told them. In fact, they were grieved to think that not one of them had attended their friend’s funeral.
Later that day I spoke with Edna’s daughter. I learned there had been no obituary. But she had indeed phoned the center’s office and asked them to share the news with the residents. Sadly, the administrators made a terrible mistake. The announcement of Edna’s death was never made.
Back in the dining room, I listened to the troubled conversations among the elderly residents, realizing that their talk hinted at even deeper concerns. Most older adults are not afraid of dying. At least that was the consensus of this group. Sure, they are fearful of lingering in a state of suffering or outliving their money, but most of all, they are afraid of being left alone and forgotten.
I couldn’t help but wonder if churches truly understand this fear, especially among those who are frail. Are families keenly aware of the importance of their presence in the lives of older loved ones?
Let us be the hands of Christ that hold wrinkled, trembling hands in ours. Let us be the feet of Christ, slowing our pace to match those using walkers. Let us be the smile of Christ, the One who never forgets his aging children.