More than an elegant sign

By Father Dennis Meinen
View from the Scooter

There is a plaque on the second floor at Holy Spirit Retirement Home which says, We do not mourn what is gone – we celebrate what is left.

I sometimes see staff members tearfully and tenderly say goodbye to a resident who has left footprints on their heart and now has “crossed over” to their true home in heaven. (St. Paul says we are only living in tents here).

It is all part of the reality of showing love to others, even those who might not seem lovable at times. In the early church a pagan writer said, “See how they love one another.” He told how Christians would take care of orphans, widows, elderly, children and travelers passing through.

A big share of what one sees in life depends on what they’re looking for. I was asked to say a prayer for the dedication of an elegant new sign at the entrance to the Holy Spirit Retirement Home. I prayed:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father. I pray that God will use this sign to point the way to Holy Spirit Retirement Home community, where faith, hope and charity dwell. May those who visit our community constantly say, “See how they love one another!”

Faith. Family. Foundation. The new sign points the way to Holy Spirit, where our faith daily nourishes and sustains us and love in action builds our family. So, you see, all these things merge together. The foundation is built.

One way we show love is by singing happy birthday to a resident or staff member who has birthday balloons attached to their chair. (It helps to give the chaplain a reminder note where I can see it.)

I remember reading about a radio station announcer who was introducing a record.

“This next one,” he said, “is for Sarah Davis, who is 111. Hey, Sarah, congratulations on a ripe old age!”

There was a short pause and then the radio station announcer said in a somewhat more subdued voice, “I’m sorry, I got it wrong. This next one is for Sarah Davis, who is ill.”

I want to emphasize that it was the radio announcer, not the chaplain who misread his reminder note.

The oldest resident I remember was named Lillian, who celebrated 107 birthdays. She was not a Catholic but enjoyed being part of any gathering at the home, especially if it involved chocolate. One non-chocolate activity Lillian attended was the nightly rosary at 6:30 p.m., and she could say the rosary equal to many elderly cradle Catholics. Each activity merely reinforced “family” gatherings where love was shown.

Of course, the cycle of life includes dying. Of all the fears, I suppose seniors fear loneliness, lack of money, ill health and dying alone. In Japan, there’s a term for dying alone: “kodokushi,” which literally translates as “lonely death.”

Hopefully, our dedicated sign will point the way to community, where faith, hope and charity exist and no one will suffer or die alone, because our foundation is much more than a sturdy elegant sign.

Father Dennis Meinen serves as chaplain at Holy Spirit Retirement Home, Sioux City, for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in the diocese, and Faithful Friar of the Garrigan 4th Degree Assembly of the Knights of Columbus, Sioux City.

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