by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Toward the end of June, I moved my mother from Mother of Good Counsel Home in St. Louis to Villa St. Francis Catholic Care Center in Olathe.
I will forever be grateful to the Franciscan Sisters of the Martyr St. George for the excellent care Mom received at Mother of Good Counsel. My grandmother spent her final years at Mother of Good Counsel, where my mother visited her daily.
After my grandmother died, my mom volunteered at Mother of Good Counsel for several years. Mom spent several stints of post-surgery rehabilitation at Mother of Good Counsel before becoming a more permanent resident there almost two years ago.
The care at Mother of Good Counsel was exceptional. At the time she left Mother of Good Counsel, not a single resident had tested positive for COVID-19.
Nevertheless, age was catching up with Mom. She was becoming less able to stand, much less, walk. The isolation from family and friends, caused by the COVID-19 prevention protocols for skilled nursing centers, also took its toll.
Before moving Mom to Kansas, her doctor in St. Louis admitted her to the hospital to run a series of tests to determine if there was anything medically that could improve her physical condition. At the end of a battery of tests, the medical conclusion was that she is: 1) 97 years old; 2) her body is wearing down; and 3) she is depressed because of the isolation from loved ones. Her doctor recommended that she be evaluated for hospice care once she was admitted to Villa St. Francis.
Mom has been a resident at Villa St. Francis for three months. The care she is receiving there is amazing. While continuing as a resident at Villa St. Francis, Mom has also qualified to receive care from Catholic Community Hospice. I have been edified by the exceptional, additional care Mom receives through the dedicated staff of Catholic Community Hospice.
It has been gratifying for me as a son of a patient to experience the high quality and loving care that my mother is receiving from the exceptional staff of both Villa St. Francis and Catholic Community Hospice.
I am both grateful and proud of the dedicated and very competent care my mother is receiving from these archdiocesan ministries.
I have the greatest sympathy for our elected leaders and public health officials during this COVID- 19 epidemic. With much unknown about the transmission and effective therapies for this virus, our state and county leaders have had to make difficult decisions to protect the health of Kansans.
We all looked on with horror at some of the terrible mistakes made in New York with the care of those in skilled nursing centers. At the same time, I think it is a mistake to focus all of our attention on the physical health of the elderly, while completely ignoring the spiritual, psychological and emotional needs of individuals at a time of life when they are least equipped to be isolated from friends, family and spiritual resources.
No one wants a repeat of New York in Kansas. The huge mistake in New York was forcing skilled nursing centers to admit individuals who had tested positive for COVID-19. Hopefully, we have learned from that tragic error.
However, we need to figure out safe ways to allow residents of skilled nursing centers to receive emotional and spiritual support from a limited number of family members, who take prudent precautions not to carry the virus into nursing homes.
We also have to come to the realization that it is impossible to eliminate all risks and that our current protocols create their own set of risks. It is not wise or compassionate to force our elderly to spend their last days in this world in isolation from loved ones. Window visits and phone calls help some, but our elderly need and deserve more human contact with at least a limited number of family.
My mother has outlived all of her contemporaries. She is a great woman of faith, but nevertheless wonders why she is still on this side of heaven. Mom would rather be with Jesus, Mary, St. Joseph, St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, all the saints, my dad, her sister, her parents, her cousins and her friends.
I believe Our Lord is keeping her here not for any needed growth on her part. Instead, I think Mom is still with us because of my need to grow in virtue. After all my mother has given to me for the past 97 years, it is a privilege to accompany her during these days.
I attempt every day in our conversations to communicate to her what an extraordinary mother she is. I remind her how she was my first and best teacher of the Christian faith.
Whatever good that I and my brother are able to do in this world is the fruit of the heroic love of our mother. I remind Mom of all the teachers she mentored, all the students she inspired and all the individuals that she brought back to the faith through her ministry with the Legion of Mary.
During her almost 20 years as a resident at an independent living apartment building for seniors, many of her neighbors died. My mom quipped: “It is like living on death row, though it is a very nice death row.”
When I moved her to Mother of Good Counsel, I commented that she had survived “death row.” Her response was: “Yes, but I am moving to another death row from which there is no escaping!”
My hope is that however many more days Mom has in this world, that in some small ways I can return a portion of the amazing love she provided to me and so many others.
Since coming to Villa St. Francis, Mom has become more alert, more engaged and more at peace with her current circumstance. I am confident that much of that is due to the army of people who are praying for her. If you are able, please occasionally offer a prayer for my mother (Louise Naumann).
I encourage all of us to do whatever we can to give support, encouragement and love to our elderly. We owe so much to those who have given us life and spent their lives caring for us. What a grace and privilege to accompany and support these heroes during their last years this side of heaven!