January 4, 2013
There are a great number of elderly Hispanic women living alone in the United States. Many are forced to fend for themselves. In traditional Latino familial environments we tend to grow up and live in close proximity to our grandparents and other elderly family members, often living in extended households, so the reality of growing old alone is foreign to us.
In our Latino culture, as well as in many other cultures, taking care of an elderly person in the family home continues to be a common part of life. Typically a son or daughter volunteers to take care of his or her elderly parents. In part, they do it knowing that the greatest beneficiaries will be their own children. For Latinos, grandparents are ideally seen as treasure troves of knowledge and kindness.
When I enter the homes of the single elderly ladies that I visit to offer pastoral support, I regard their spaces as sacred repositories for their memories, lovingly gathered and faithfully kept. Every single corner is adorned with something that delivers visual pleasure; something that manages to keeps each woman company in her daily life.
Our conversations, often accompanied by a lovingly served cup of coffee, fill any lonely spaces. The atmosphere turns intimate and like small blasts of light the presence of the Divine Spirit and the action of God fills the room with light. Speaking our native language transports us instantly to the countries that we always miss. We tell stories of our youthful years, so full of dreams and adventures, and our present and past joys, our stumbles and sufferings, and above all the understanding that our lives have always been centered by our unmovable faiths in God, who never leaves us and will be with us until the end of our days to lead us to His eternal kingdom.
The visit does not end until we share the story of the latest family photo, displayed in the center of an altar surrounded by candles that illuminate the crucified Christ, the Virgins, and favorite saints. The photo is of a family member who needs the assistance of all the celestial powers, which will be offered through prayer until the crisis is over. I often take my hostess’ hands and before her protective saints invite her to pray with me for her and her family’s health, particularly anyone she is concerned with. We praise God the Father, the merciful, with faith and hope.
I never leave without accepting the invitation to return soon, reminding her that her faith, perseverance, and strength are joyful to God. When I hug her goodbye I praise God for making me His instrument and allowing me to spend warm moments listening to such fervent souls.
One woman I’ve grown to cherish is a woman named Marcela. I plan to visit her as many times as she asks me to. Leaving her smiling at her door is God’s blessing to me as well. It’s what encourages me to serve with love and humility in the name of Christ.