On the International Day of Older Persons, a Love Story

Tuesday, October 1, is the International Day of Older Persons.  The day was established by the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 45/106 on December 14, 1990.  The following year, the General Assembly adopted the United Nations Principles for Older Persons.

This seasoned population of grey hairs will assume increasing prominence in the years to come; in only ten years there will be a billion old people on the planet—and the responsibility for their care will fall on the younger generation.

At the Vatican, the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers (for Health Pastoral Care) observed Old Persons’ Day with publication of a message titled “The Value of the Life of the Elderly.”  Signed by the president of the Pontifical Council, Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, the message said in part:

“This international day constitutes an important occasion, destined to assume ever greater relevance, considering that there estimated to be over 600 million older people in the world, and that the progressive ageing of the world population could, within a decade, bring this figure to over a billion elderly people.

Therefore we are all called to collaborate everywhere, Christians and persons of good will, in the pursuit of a juster and more equitable society, enriched also by the effective participation of those who are at times considered ‘not useful’ or even as a ‘burden’, but who may instead offer a contribution based on the experience and wisdom acquired throughout life”.

Archbishop Zimowski continued, noting the important role of the Church in bringing together people from different generations:

“…the Church is effectively the family of all generations, in which everyone must feel at home, which must not be guided by the logic of profit and of ‘having’, but rather by that of gratuitousness and love. When during old age life becomes fragile, it never loses its value nor its dignity; everyone is wanted and loved by God, everyone is important and necessary. … In this way there enters the value of a specific pastoral care, which includes first and foremost the fundamental element of communion between generations. … It regards the promotion of a culture of unity: unity between generations, which must not regard each other as detached or indeed opposed; a vision of life that allows new generations to grow, immersed daily in this culture of unity, to which each person brings an indispensable contribution”.

The Archbishop noted that the community as a whole, and the Church in particular, should make a commitment to the care and pastoral attention of the elderly.  “From a Christian perspective,” he said, “old age is not the decline of life, but rather its fulfilment: the synthesis of what one has learnt and lived, the synthesis of how much one has suffered, rejoiced, and withstood”.

With that responsibility in mind, the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers (for Health Pastoral Care) has organized an international conference on the role of the Church in the service of the elderly patient: the care of persons affected by neurodegenerative pathologies”.

*     *     *     *     *

Speaking of tender care for the elderly, this morning I ran across a poignant story of compassion and commitment—the love story of  Bob and Missie Cousy.

Dianne Williamson, writing in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, reported that Bob’s wife of 63 years passed away last week and that Cousy, a former Boston Celtics basketball star, was inconsolable in his grief.  For more than ten years Bob Cousy had been the caretaker for his wife, who suffered from dementia.  His daughter remembers that as Missie declined, Bob worked to make her life as happy as possible.  He never sought outside help or sympathy.

Missie’s cognitive decline was gradual and began a dozen years ago, Cousy said. She would ask him the same question, over and over. She hallucinated, grew disoriented and struggled with balance. But she always knew her husband, and she bristled at any suggestion that she suffered from dementia. 

So Cousy worked hard to create the perception that his once-independent wife was vital and healthy. Because she believed she could still drive, he shipped her station wagon to their place in Florida each winter so she could see it in the driveway. Artificial red flowers were planted in her garden. He did all the household chores and let her think she performed them herself.

“My dad provided an environment that allowed her, in her mind, to be a fully functioning adult,” said daughter Marie. “It was amazing to watch.”

The couple’s social life vanished as Missie’s symptoms worsened. Other than a Thursday night “out with the boys” and some quick rounds of golf, Cousy spent all of his time alone with his bride. He watched “General Hospital” with Missie and patiently answered the same questions. He stocked the fridge with her favorite candy, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. At night, she’d cover him with a blanket and he’d stroke her arm.

“I love you honey,” he’d say.

“I love you, too,” Missie would always reply.

On September 7, as Cousy drove his wife home from an early dinner at the Worcester Country Club, Missie suffered a massive stroke in the car.  Two weeks later, she died peacefully.

Cousy misses his wife terribly, but takes comfort in knowing that she was happy to the end of her days.  Caring for her was never a chore, Cousy insists, “because I knew she would have done the same for me.”

Read the rest of the wonderful love story here.

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