This is an excerpt from a letter to SOAR! from Sister Katie McNamara, O.C.S.O., from the Mount Saint Mary’s Abbey in Wrentham, Massachusetts – a monastic community of some 50 Trappistine nuns:
The phone call took longer than expected – always the case when help was a little short in the infirmary. Being alone on duty during meridian I had deliberately used the phone at the nurse’s desk so as to keep a watchful eye on our little wanderer. She had been restless most of the day and while that is not at all surprising for those who bear the cross of Alzheimer’s, it was for her as she was usually very peaceful most days and enjoyed sitting quietly reading or just looking at a book. Today was different. Her level of anxiety had increased over the past day or so and therefore, so had my level of unease. She had walked in front of me while I was at the desk three times already and though her smile had not changed I had a sense that something in her was about to. The Doctor on the phone had asked a question & the answer was in the sisters’ chart which meant I would have to turn around for a brief moment as I reached behind me. No problem I figured, she’s right there. No sooner had I glanced away when I heard the door close. My heart almost leaped out of my chest when I realized she was gone. So quick! Don’t panic. I told myself. She could not possibly have gone far. And yet, she was no where in sight. I don’t think I even said good bye to the Doctor but threw the phone down on the desk as I took off in a mad dash through the infirmary. The early afternoon sunshine had apparently drawn her like a magnet and as with most of us, she couldn’t resist. Thank heavens she had simply just stepped outside but nonetheless outside she was and alone. She offered no resistance as I guided her back inside with the promise to take her for a walk a bit later.
Dear members of SOAR!,
I have written this letter in my heart more times than you will ever know but now that I go to put it on paper, the words don’t seem to come as easily as I had hoped. I tend to think the reason is because the language of the heart is more profound than any word can satisfy. I have come to learn time and time again during this past year that we cannot wrap our simple English around the deeper meaning of the heart. With that said, I want just the same to try to express to you my deepest gratitude for your gift to us of a $10,000 grant.
Isn’t it true how precious each and every person is before God? What unique gift He gives to us when He gives us to one another! All the more reason then why it is of utmost importance to take particular care especially during those times in life when one may be more vulnerable. Even our beautiful Rule of St. Benedict gives special mention in a loving, tender chapter entitled “On Old Men and Children.” To share a few lines: ” … human nature itself is drawn to special kindness toward these times of life …” and, again, “Let their weakness be always taken into account, and let them by no means be held to the rigor of the rule … let a kind consideration be shown to them … ” Now while there are neither old men nor children here at Mount Saint Mary’s abbey there are very beautiful and treasurable senior nuns who have given to God the total gift of their lives and therefore, are most deserving of a safe, familiar and loving environment in which to live out the reminder of their monastic life before entering Eternal Life.
As the infirmarian for my community, caring for my sisters, especially our precious seniors, is not only a privilege but a responsibility; a responsibility that can at times seem quite daunting in the face of all the many illnesses and disabilities that are a part of diminishment as we age, regardless of how graceful the process happens to be.
As you may very well agree, one of the most difficult of crosses today is that of Alzheimer’s and when it happens in our monastic family, the first line of defense is to tighten the circle of love and caring around them, enabling the sisters the wiggle room needed to continue to take part in and live the beautiful community life they have participated in all their adult years while at the same time giving them the protection and safety they deserve so as to lower the risk of dangerous and frightening situations for them.
Given the short but very real story shared above, it became obvious not long ago that something was desperately needed to continue to provide that safe and loving environment in an atmosphere that would continue to be familiar and meaningful. The simplest solution – alarmed doors – was also quite costly. As I prayed and thought about what to do, Sister Christa-Maria once again mentioned SOAR! And the possibility of our seeking and obtaining help in a grant for the very purpose for which I have just shared. And, once again, you have come to our rescue with the most generous gift of a $10,000 grant. I am so very appreciative of your kind consideration of us once again. Thank you with all my heart.
Be assured of our prayers always. God love and bless you.