May and June are usually full of celebrations, from Mother’s Day and first Communions to proms, graduations and weddings. These events are rich in meaning for individuals and families, representing personal accomplishments and obstacles overcome, the investment of effort and resources, intergenerational bonds and the hopes and aspirations of the young.
Milestones like these are marked by rituals and time-honored traditions, and they are often surrounded by much pomp and circumstance. But they can also be weighed down by expectations which are nearly impossible to satisfy — finding the wedding dress of one’s dreams, coming up with the best prom proposal ever, or snapping the perfect photo as graduation caps are gleefully tossed in the air!
Obviously things are different this year. In this season of pandemic many expectations will be left unfulfilled, many dreams deferred. Although our experience of proms and graduations is mostly limited to our youthful memories, we Little Sisters have our own rituals and traditions, many of which we have been forced to suppress during the pandemic.
Some Sisters were forlorn at the thought of not being able to celebrate Holy Week, the most intense time of the liturgical year. For others, having to care for dying Residents from behind masks, face shields and isolation gowns has been a distressing experience.
As Little Sisters we have long-held traditions surrounding the care of the dying. We keep vigil with them, taking turns to maintain a prayerful and supportive presence at their bedside until God takes them to himself. We take pride in creating what we consider the ideal ambiance in a dying person’s room — from gentle touch and special sheets to soft music and lighting, fresh flowers and hospitality carts stacked with snacks for family members. The sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and a regular rhythm of rosaries and other devotions are also central to this tradition. After death we prayerfully prepare their bodies for burial and help the families to plan their wake and funeral.
In many cases these treasured rituals have been impossible to maintain during the pandemic. With the required isolation precautions, fewer Sisters and staff on hand due to illness, and in some cases without the possibility of the sacraments, we just have not been able to ensure the same kind of personalized care that we usually expect of ourselves.
Recent events in our ministry, as well as the experience of young people I know who are graduating this spring, have led me to reflect on the burden our expectations place on us. It struck me that in our contemporary culture we’ve grown accustomed to being in control and making things happen, to doing whatever it takes to fulfill our expectations. The pandemic has forced us to realize that we are not really in charge after all, and that we cannot control events on a global scale or sometimes even in our own household.
I think it’s legitimate to mourn the highly anticipated moments we’ve missed out on and feel robbed of due to the pandemic. It’s valid to grieve over our inability to care for others like we usually do. But the virtue of Christian hope should keep us from allowing our personal hopes and aspirations to be dashed. Humble trust in God’s Providence should help us to accept our own poverty and to find the silver lining in our current situation.
Let’s embrace the moment in which we find ourselves — for God has permitted these circumstances and he is waiting for us to recognize his presence in them and to use them to the best of our ability to grow deeper in faith, hope and love!
Many milestones will go uncelebrated during these months of pandemic, but let’s be creative in making memories that will be cherished even more than if our original plans had gone off without a hitch! Let’s help the young to become the next great generation by rising to the unique challenges of this moment in history!
Thinking about the unfulfilled expectations of these past weeks, I find solace in the words of one of the early Christian Desert Fathers, “Do not be always wanting everything to turn out as you think it should, but rather as God pleases, then you will be undisturbed and thankful in your prayer.”
I pray that you will find reasons to be thankful in these difficult days.