Living Life at over 80

December 1, 2009

A 92 year old little sister who lives in a home for the elderly, writes:

'When our faculties diminish we need to find everything that fosters life. We need to keep making plans and maintaining desires. On a practical level commit yourself to doing certain things, no matter how small they be; be regularly committed to some service. You need to remain open to change.

Live the present moment fully, putting the accent more on being than on doing. Maintain a positive outlook on yourself as well as on the world.

Jesus had pity but he continued to have confidence in each person and sought ways to stand them on their own two feet. I don't prepare myself for death but for life and for a meeting: love is waiting for me...

'A younger' little sister writes:

I was born in 1926 and I celebrated my 83rd birthday in June. And so I have a short experience of being in the late golden age. Here are a few of my reflections and experiences.

In our place we speak about 'aging gracefully'. To me that means not being a moaner, to not be complaining endlessly about what's not right and to keep smiling. It also means keeping a positive outlook on life.

I have diabetes, blood pressure, bladder problems, cholesterol and a heart condition. I have had several operations and fallen countless times but without ever breaking anything. Last year I had phlebitis and that prevented me from taking the plane.

Until I was 60 I was as solid as a rock but now I feel my limits and my fragility. But I'm still here and I try to take advantage of what's left me! I'm still alive, still able to get around on my own. I no longer walk as far nor as quickly. I'm going downhill in many areas. I can't carry a lot, nor go up stairs or remain standing for long.

But I do my best and I'm grateful for what I'm still able to do. I am grateful for so many things: life, people, nature. I try to not look back or think about the good old days when I was young and full of health. I try not to worry about the future when things will be worse and I will be in a state of dependence. Each day's troubles suffice. I am in the Lord's hands and I trust that he will give me the strength I need from day to day.

In so far as I'm able, I remain active and I have a few commitments. At the parish I'm a Eucharistic minister once a month. I belong to a club for old people and help to serve refreshments during wakes before funerals. Once a week I go to visit sick people in the neighbourhood hospital. On Saturdays I follow a Spanish class (for old folks) because that helps me to meet sick people in their own language.

In the Community I cook two or three times a week. I do the accounts and work at translations. I also do crossword puzzles in order to not lose my memory!

I'm more irritable than in the past. Sometimes I experience anxiety, especially when I wake up. I need a slower rhythm, more silence. I'm often alone for a good part of the day because the other two are at work. Sometimes I feel that the others pamper me and are a bit over protective. I try to be patient.

Prayer isn't easy. A lot of dryness or impressions of "deja vu" (the readings). Because of the medication, I easily sleep in the chapel (sometimes during Mass or the sermon!) I try to make up for it by praying when I'm awake, in the street, in buses...using every little opportunity given me, as Madeleine Delbrel used to say. At night I often have to get up and I'm often awake. I try to meditate the rosary. being at another stage of life means taking other means!

Death: of course I think about it; not in a morbid way but peacefully, knowing that it is maybe close and could take me suddenly. Here in our neighbourhood we're faced with death almost each day, unfortunately its victims are often young people. But there are also the neighbours whom we've known for a long time and who are going down in number as we grow older. My conclusion would be to say: let us hold firm in the present and have confidence in the merciful love of our God for the future.

Another little sister shares about how she has worked on herself in order to rediscover peace and liberty:

I will be 84 at the end of the year but I must stress that up till now I have been blessed with good body doesn't claim my attention and gives me no reason to complain...and every morning I must give thanks.

At the same time I'm perfectly aware of the fact that things could easily turn upside down - a simple fall for example- and I would be more or less stripped of my independence. That helps me be aware of the fact that this time is a precious time, not to be wasted. I have to let this time yield its best by peacefully living in an attitude of availability and abandonment, keeping going in the same commitment that has mapped my steps for the past 50 years.

In order to put some order into my thoughts, I would like to try to name a certain number of steps that marked me.

1.Looking to the past:

This was a difficult moment and lasted quite a long period. All that was negative from the past seemed to stick out: actions I did or didn't do, mistaken judgements, absence of clear-vision, awkwardness...etc. And all of these things were connected with specific people or members of my family. Everything that "failed" invaded me and drowned me in sadness and discouragement.

The accompaniment and understanding of the little sister to whom I entrusted all of this were very precious and allowed me to find peace. It didn't erase the facts, but it set them in their proper perspective.

The little Oriental monk with his big bag of sins came to mind. His bag had a hole in it and all of his sins kept trickling out behind him as he moved onwards.

2.Letting go:

This wasn't easy to do because I was often in charge. Came the moment when I had to step aside and let others be in charge: see things, times, settings change without saying anything. But it allowed the precious discovery of the contingency of those things which I thought unchangeable. It was an awakening that allowed me to be grateful to the one who permitted the shell to be broken so that I could get at what was essential. It opened me to other horizons, gave me a new perspective on life and events.

3.Working on self:

This led me to,review my priorities, to face contradictions and allow myself to be challenged. I was brought to review the way I operated.

4.Time to assimilate...and to stick to reality, both mine and that of others':

The issue was how to welcome all this novelty and allow myself to be challenged while remaining myself. It was only on building up my awareness that I could bring others what they needed.

In the beginning you need to keep silent...maybe we're more or less forced to keep silent...but the time cornes when keeping quiet is no longer honest towards oneself or towards others. So you have to journey towards speaking even if it means risking contradiction...words that are like an offering of yourself in truth. When I am in peace my words will be all the more fruitful.

5.Accepting limits and being helped:

Reality also involves those physical and intellectual limits that slowly start to appear. Accepting oneself and others is both important and liberating for the good of all. But there again you shouldn't forget that it comes as a price. Accepting that helping hand which reaches out to you isn't always easy...maybe you need to accept it as a training for that stage when your autonomy will be even more limited.

6.Access to a liberated life:

All this work on things that eat away at you gives you access to a liberated life. It enables you to create a liberating atmosphere for others around yourself. It's a liberation that gives an atmosphere of peace and joy, allowing you to smile through events that shake you up, or laugh at those little things that really don't matter so much.


Even though I haven't spoken about it, it's clear that none of this can stand if it's not inhabited by the Presence of God. It's so important to live this Presence in daily life. But let's admit that it's far from simple...The usual props for prayer sometime become difficult, if not to say unbearable!

Personally I find most so called "spiritual" books are just a lot of words...tiring...and it is the Words of Scripture who are the real companion.

Other little sisters expressed themselves, especially on the subject of prayer:

I pray in the morning. I have a great desire to pray but usually it's just aridity...(she is 85 years old). It's difficult for me to stay for a long time in the same position. In the afternoon I fall asleep as soon as I go to the chapel.

What helps me for prayer: the liturgy of the day, the office. Often I just take the Gospel of the day. One word is enough for me. What helps me in Community life are our Gospel sharings. It's what helps me to centre on what is essential. It unites us in the present moment.

It seems to me that I feel peace in the face of death. What also helps me a lot is to contemplate nature. There are parks near our place. I contemplate the flowers, trees, the wind...

I also need others to help me know and find the Lord. I visit refugee families who are often so alone, old people who are more handicapped than me as well as little sisters in the region who are the same age as me.

Another sharing, still on the subject of prayer:

Right from the first days of my life as a little sister up to the present, I have always found prayer extremely difficult. I have the impression that during my whole life I have always only gone around in circles in this domain. One thing is clear: I never gave up on the hour of adoration. There are very few days when I wasn't present in the chapel for this sacred time.

I had a burning desire to pray more. I tried and asked for help. I asked God to grant me this gift...I suffered from this incapacity, because of this time spent without anything happening. I became discouraged and blamed myself.

Yes, I believe that prayer is God's gift, a gift that you can't tear out of his hands. But I also believe that the capacity to pray better requires a personal decision. A decision that requires presence, energy, time, struggles, making priorities, giving certain things up...And I can honestly say, without any false guilt that I didn't put all the elements I have just named at the service of this decision. I often gave up and it's one of the greatest regrets of my life. At my age, now 80 years old, I am in peace, totally confident in God's mercy.

I have just spoken about prayer in the silence of the chapel. Obviously it's a crucial irreplaceable form of prayer. But where does prayer begin and end?

Has another form of prayer matured in me over these last few years? Something I would also call a life of prayer?

When I try for better or worse to battle my inner demons, my jealousies, aggression and depression in order to turn to love, do I not pray?

When I listen with the ears of my heart to the often heart rending confessions of my neighbours and friends, do I not pray? In the street, when I stand in awe at the sight of a father who walks tenderly, hand in hand with his tiny child, do I not pray? To admire, weep, doubt, wait, dance, struggle, sweat, be it not also prayer?

From an 84 year old little sister who is in a Community working at handicrafts:

Here is how I try to live this time of old age which is now where I am at.

I find that the only way to avoid gloominess or all forms of tiredness is to trust. Trust others, the little sisters with whom I live, and of course, trust God since I owe him everything.

I think that I shouldn't lament the losses in my physical capacities but find in those losses a freedom to do other things. Yes, I feel free for example, to re-read books that fascinated me and guided my youth. Besides, I am lucky enough to still be able to work with my hands. And that is a source of peace and joy. It gives my days a certain rhythm. I don't need to look for things to keep me busy.

I have always believed that God, our Father doesn't take us before we are ready to make the crossing, and that Jesus will be close to us in that hour. And so I don't worry too much at the thought of death. Besides, I try to live today by living one day after another.

An 82 year old little sister who has lived a long time among nomads writes:

These nomads are now marginalised and because of my age, in a certain way, I now share their marginalisation, even at the Fraternity. Few little sisters really know me. It's part of a loneliness that leads to death.

I see this solitude, which is normal as you approach death as a participation in the marginalisation of our people. Thanks to the television I remain close to them. I rejoice over the fact that on TV they often speak about them.

I am amazed at everything that God does because of his fidelity. If he has been good for me, then he will be good for all. I did my retreat with an old Jesuit who began religious life in our place. He spoke to me a lot about each one's mission. Things in life don't happen by chance. The Lord gave me a mission. I realize to what an extent the Lord pursues us. We can only manage if we dialogue a lot. Our ideas are so different... In spite of it all, you need to see the good side of things.

An 85 little sister from the Middle East writes:

Rather than speaking of old age, I would prefer that we speak of being 'advanced in age'. The world "old" has the connotation of someone who's going backwards in life, whereas for me, we received the "gift of life", a breath that comes from the Lord, and we are on our way to him. It's a stage in life and each stage has its grace. I was happy with my childhood, my youth and now about advancing in age. I am not jealous about my youth because truly our strength doesn't lie in our physical strength but in unlimited desire.

For me, you start preparing for old age right from the time of your youth. It's a question of faith and faith isn't philosophy, nor spirituality but it's an attachment to the person of Christ. Faith is the resolve to follow him on the road of life. That's my mission: 'saviour with him'. It doesn't depend on my physical strength nor on my activities... There's a magnificent prayer in the Akathyst hymn to the Lord Jesus which follows the itinerary of life: Jesus, protector of my childhood, Jesus, guide of my youth, Jesus, praise of my old age.

Indeed, old age is the time for praise. What has always helped me in the Community is the "offering of my life" just as it is, with its ups and downs, its times of fidelity and infidelity...recognized in humility and forgiven by the Lord in the sacrament of reconciliation.

Along with the offering, I bless God for what he still gives me to go through for him: capacity and incapacity, growing weakness. I say to the Lord, 'Only grant that I not lose my mind, but let it be as you will. And if it includes that, well then I offer to you in advance.'

Personally I don't have difficulties with the young...We speak what we need to say to each other. The main point is to understand each one's rhythm of life. You need to let the young try things out, spread their wings and leave the aged little sister to have her rest. Let her have the time she needs to get something done. Not passing judgement on each other is a real school of self denial.

What I hope is to not be treated like a child who's not aware of things, but like an adult who doesn't need to be pampered, spoilt...We need to be simple in our relations. God is simple.

From an 81 year old little sister who lived in a Community dedicated to prisoners:

I'm lucky to still be able to keep in touch with several prisoners and a good number of those who have come out. Visits and mail are important links.

For me, to live with other Little sisters where there's a real community life, where humour allows us to put up with each other, where our sufferings call forth the others' compassion, where we love each other and know that we too are loved...all that is very concrete, something real that carries me and prepares me for prayer.

I often need to correct myself in order to force myself to live in joy and-gratitude,

I was struck by this phrase in the Constitutions: 'The little sisters will seek the face of God with ardent longing and will live in communion with him.' I don't like the word 'death'. I'm going to leave for the 'other shore'. What could be better? I will see Jesus, the Trinity, all of heaven, my friends...

But still it's difficult to free myself from my fears. What helps me is to speak a lot with Jesus throughout the day. Each day of the week I pray for a different continent. Sometimes you go to prayer as you would to a dance, and at other times as you would to war!

And finally an 82 year old little sister who is quite handicapped physically:

I turned 82 in March 2009. Yes, old age is a grace but it is also a challenge. For me the greatest help, the most effective aid is to surrender myself totally in absolute confidence into God's hands (prayer of abandonment). Saving it everyday anew and living it with the grace of God.

And I need an intimate relationship with the person of Jesus, Son of God, begotten of the Father before the creation of the world, become man, newborn in Bethlehem, died on a cross and rose. I speak to him and he remains present to me. It's with him that I go out to my little sisters in community and it's my desire to see them as he does. His word in the Gospel remains accompanies me: 'This is my commandment, that you love one another' (Jn 15:17). L Sr Magdeleine often repeated that to us. So it means being attentive, serving each other in little things, smiling in daily living.

For me now, the prayer of adoration means being in front of Jesus present in the Eucharist in an open tabernacle. To look at him and to wait - and thus to be there with all my brothers and sisters throughout the world today.

It's also to accept the state of my body, as it is, as being a gift of God, today's reality. And all of that is preparation for the supreme meeting with God which is drawing near. I advance with him, towards him, with his grace.