Were You There: When There is Joy and Pain
Editor’s note: Missioner Cindy Mizes reflects on a friendship she formed with a resident sister at the Jeanne Jugan Residence for the Elderly, recounting the times of both joy and sorrow she shared with her.
I will never forget my first day as a volunteer at the Jeanne Jugan Residence for the Elderly in Washington, DC. On that day I was given a tour of the facility by Sister Constance, who also introduced me to the staff and several of the residents. Midway through the tour, Sister said there is someone I must meet and I was led to the room of one particular resident. She explained that this resident was 103 years old and at one time held a high position as a consecrated religious with the Little Sisters of the Poor. This remarkable woman dedicated her entire adult life to serving God and people in poverty, and she was highly revered by all her community and hundreds of other faithful. In 2015, during his visit to the facility, Pope Francis personally greeted this marvelous Sister who lovingly displayed her vibrant reverence to his Holiness.
However, on the particular day I visited her, she appeared to be half asleep as we entered her room, sitting in her chair with her head lowered. Sister Constance introduced me as a service volunteer with Franciscan Mission Service. I approached her chair, bent down besides her, and placed my hand on hers. With her eyes closed and head still lowered, I softly said, “Hello Sister, how are you?” Immediately, she lifted her head, opened her eyes, looked directly at me, and began unceasingly speaking to me in Spanish. I know only a little Spanish, but I could tell by her radiant face, bubbly tone, and bright eyes that her heart was filled with joy at that moment. Before I knew it, she started blowing me kisses. That precious moment of sharing each other’s joyful presence left an indelible mark on my heart.
Only after several weeks would God’s purpose for that special visit be revealed to me.
While serving at Jeanne Jugan some time later, I was assisting residents to their rooms. I heard a familiar voice behind me saying, “Ayuadame, ayuadame!” (“Help me, help me.”) It was the aged Sister who had once lovingly blew me kisses. I approached her and—similar to that first day—bent down besides her chair, saying a few consoling words to calm her. In her hands she held her rosary; in my heart, I felt her misery. This time there were no kisses, no radiant smile, no sweet talk, no joyfulness. All I could do was be present in her moment of need. I offered her reassurance and placed my hands over hers. I didn’t realize that that would be the last time I would see her.
Sister passed away a couple of weeks later. As I mourned her passing, I realized that ministry of presence brings both incredible joy and deep sadness. There is joy in seeing the radiant face of Christ in others and abundant love which flows unceasingly from the heart, but there is also sadness in witnessing their misery and suffering.
My happiness and experience in visiting with this incredible Sister reaffirmed my faith as a witness of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and His promise of everlasting joy and life eternal.
Reflection Question: In moments of grief and heartache, how can you search for and remember times of shared joy?