This inspiring story of Jeanette and Alexander Toczko demonstrates the type of love that only a marriage in Christ can produce. The dedication and love this man and woman had for one another is reflected in the actions of their children.
Among the many lessons that could be learned from this story, one that I will take away is that the children did everything they could to meet the wishes of their dying parents. It was the children’s dedication that allowed for their parents to die in each other’s arms.
In our culture, it can be very difficult to meet the needs of the elderly whom we love and care for. Even more challenging is meeting the spiritual needs of the Catholic elderly when children don’t know or understand what their parents desire. Here are a few tips for those who are caring for devout aging Catholics.
Everything You Need to Know About Caring for an Elderly Catholic Loved One
1. Take them to Mass and Confession. – Take the elderly to Mass as often as you are able. Many enjoy attending daily Mass, but it is essential to get them to Sunday Mass so that they can fulfill the obligation that is one of the precepts of the Church. Going to Confession may also be something that your elderly Catholic loved one needs as a part of his or her spiritual life. Confession times vary by parish.
2. If they are homebound or hospitalized, contact your local Catholic Church to bring the Sacraments to them. – As people age, they may get to a point where it is impossible to travel to Mass or Confession. When your loved one reaches this stage, contact the Catholic Church that he or she belonged to in the past. This Church should provide a ministry to bring the Eucharist to the home or to the hospital of your parent. EWTN offers a televised Mass which may be valuable for your loved one.
3. Provide them with a Bible, rosary, a crucifix, image of Jesus and/or Mary, and Holy Water. – These items carry great meaning and significance to all Catholics. They are things that a devout Catholic would want to keep on hand as they prepare to die. Often called sacramentals, they bring peace, comfort and a reminder that Jesus is near to them.
4. Pray with them or read scripture to them. – If they are unable to pray or read on their own, your loved ones may find comfort in you reading or praying with them. This Treasury of Catholic Family Prayers is available for download and is perfect to use if you are unavailable to read or pray aloud.
5. Give them books, music and movies that they remember from their youth. – The elderly are most comfortable with what they know and remember. Providing them with movies (Angels with Dirty Faces, Casablanca, and Ben Hur are few classic examples) and books that they enjoyed throughout their lives will be more fruitful than providing current forms of entertainment. They will find joy in being reminded of their past. Church hymns, as well as “Oldies” will also help them feel comfortable.
6. Make sure they are receiving the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. – A priest can administer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to wait until a person is dying to give them this Sacrament. “The Rite of Anointing tells us there is no need to wait until a person is at the point of death to receive the Sacrament. A careful judgment about the serious nature of the illness is sufficient. The Sacrament may be repeated if the sick person recovers after the anointing but becomes ill once again, or if, during the same illness, the person’s condition becomes more serious. A person should be anointed before surgery when a dangerous illness is the reason for the intervention (cf. Rite of Anointing, Introduction, nos. 8-10). Moreover, “old people may be anointed if they are in weak condition even though no dangerous illness is present.” (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops)
7. Notify their faith community and ask for their help. – Chances are good that if your parent was a devout Catholic, they have a faith community. Were they involved in some type of ministry or Bible Study? Find a way to get into contact with those who were a part of your parent’s faith journey. They will most likely have suggestions and advice for questions that you can’t answer on your own. They will also want to visit your loved one and offer prayers for them.
8. Remind them of the Hope they have in Heaven. – It is natural for those who are near death to be fearful of what will happen next. Even those who have been devout in their faith may begin to question. Remind them that they will soon experience God’s love in a new way. Encourage them that they have nothing to fear because the Lord is waiting for them. Matthew Leonard offers beautiful insight to our hope in heaven in this talk “Our Beautiful End: Exploring the Timeless Mystery of Heaven”. (Click here to listen to this excellent perspective.)
9. Honor them with a traditional Catholic funeral and burial. – If your parent (or grandparent) lived their life as a Catholic, they will want a traditional Catholic funeral Mass and burial. You may wonder, why have a Catholic funeral? “A Christian funeral is a service performed by the Christian community for the benefit of its dead. It expresses the sorrow of the survivors, yet it always has a Paschal character. Ultimately, we die in Christ so as to celebrate with him the feast of the Resurrection.” (YOUCAT questions 277, 278)
10. Continue to pray for the soul of the deceased and have a Mass said for them. – It is a Catholic tradition and a spiritual work of mercy to have a Mass offered for the repose of the soul of a loved one. You can begin this process by contacting your local Catholic Church.
Pope Francis has been an advocate for the elderly. Reminding us of our call to love and honor an older generation, Pope Francis tells us “Where the elderly are not honored there is no future for the young.” and more recently “The family is the nearest hospital, the first school for the young, the best home for the elderly.” It is our duty to ensure that our parents, grandparents and others in our lives are able to live out their last days by remaining rooted in the faith and traditions of the Catholic Church. By serving the elderly, we are ultimately serving Christ. Though it is difficult and burdensome at times, strive to love others as Christ has loved you.
Prayer for the Elderly from Catholic.org
All praise and glory are yours, Lord our God. For you have called us to serve you and one another in love. Bless our sick today so that they may bear their illness in union with Jesus’ sufferings and restore them quickly to health. Bless those who have grown old in your service and give them courage and strength in their faith. Lead us all to eternal glory. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
Mother of Perpetual Help pray for us.