Editor’s note: Missioner-in-training Cindy Mizes reflects on her service at the Jeanne Jugan Residence, where she has formed relationships with the residents.
Every Wednesday morning, I take a 30 minute walk from Casa San Salvador through the Catholic University of America campus to the Jeanne Jugan Residence, a long-term care facility for the elderly with limited means operated by the Little Sisters of the Poor.
There, along with a fellow missioner, I minister to the residents by attending to simple needs such as helping serve meals, accompanying them to Chapel, leading activities, and engaging in friendly conversations.
Upon arriving, I greet the residents with a friendly smile and ask how they are doing. Some tell me about their day, but most simply smile. Ms. Woods* can always be heard quietly singing, “Happy day, happy day, Oh happy, happy day” over and over again. Sometimes she sings this little tune to other residents and staff to bring a little cheer to their day. Her little tune never fails to bring me cheer.
At 10 AM, we encourage as many residents as we can to join in the daily activity. One day, we recited poetry and got several residents to recite a few poems with us. Another time, we reminisced about the “good ol’ days,” and got several residents to sing along to “Old Susanna.” We even did a little square dance to the beat of “swing your partner round and round.” As we dance and sing, faces light up and smiles begin to light the room as a faint voice sings, “Happy day, happy day, oh happy happy day.”
I found that by being present with the residents at Jeanne Jugan, not only am I assisting the Poor Sisters and staff who provide wonderful care, but I am also providing the residents spiritual nourishment which comes only through dialogue and engagement with other people.
Being with the residents of Jeanne Jugan has created in me a heart flowing with love, understanding, patience, and a willingness to accompany them in the trials and sufferings they often painfully endure. This spiritual accompaniment is what we refer to as ministry of presence, and the fruits of this ministry are love, peace and joy.
In His ministry, Christ showed compassion and mercy to the elderly and widowed. As he died on the cross, Christ commissioned John, his Apostle, to care for His Blessed Mother in her later years. Only by truly understanding the spiritual and relational needs of the elderly can we begin to be Christ for them and bring them love, peace, and joy through ministry of presence.
This action calls us to first look within our own family and assure their spiritual and relational needs are being met. By taking the time out of each day to send a letter, make a phone call, pay a visit, take them out for a meal, or just tell them how much you love them, you can bring them a little joy, light, and purpose into their lives so they can find their “happy day.”
Reflection question: What can you do to brighten the day of an elderly loved one who may be alone or feeling depressed?
*name has been changed to respect the anonymity of the resident