Most chapters/fraternities of Lay Dominicans have elderly or disabled members who are unable to attend the meetings. As part of our ongoing formation we have a responsibility for those members in this category who wish to remain connected with the Order and with their chapter/fraternity. Our concern for and kindness to these members is a very important part of our life of preaching, prayer and community. Our community life is tenuous in comparison to the Friars or Sisters but it is still a valid part of our Dominican commitment. Others will see how we care for our elderly/disabled members and this is preaching in action.
Those who suffer from different forms of dementia should not be abandoned just because they no longer recognize you and are unable to hold a conversation with you. A regular visit from members of their chapter/fraternity will be of great value to them and their carers, especially if they are still living at home being cared for by relatives. To say the rosary with such a member brings peace and familiarity, even if the member is unable to respond. Such visits will be challenging because they will call forth from you energy, patience and the gift of your time.
The following are a number of ideas for keeping members who are absent through age or illness connected with the Order and their chapters/fraternities:
1. The chapters/fraternities should always keep their absent members in their prayers at the fortnightly/monthly meetings.
2. Telephone or call on the absent member before a meeting to remind them to pray Morning/Evening Prayer at the same time as it is prayed in the meeting.
3. Prepare a CD of Dominican hymns and prayers which would be familiar to the absent person.
4. Record the main talks and liturgies at large gatherings i.e., the annual conference and regional meetings, to be distributed on CD to absent elderly and sick members.
5. Where possible and if acceptable to the absent member, appoint a chapter/fraternity member to visit him or her every two months or so.
6. This visit might be structured to recite the prayer of the hours with the member and bring news of the Order.
7. If the absent member is in a nursing home, it might be possible two or three times a year to hold the chapter/fraternity meeting in that nursing home.
8. Where the Lay Dominicans have a regular newsletter, it should include a section for news of this group of people and see to it that the newsletter is distributed to them.
Out of the European Assembly of Lay Dominican fraternities in Slovakia in 2008 came an idea for gathering preaching stories from Lay Dominicans. The title of the project is “The adventure of Preaching: lay Dominicans tell their stories”. A meeting was subsequently held in Rome in September 2008 to take this idea a step further. It was decided to set up a website in 2009 to publish these stories. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to reminisce with some of these older people and with their permission collect their stories for this project? You will be kept informed about the progress of the project and be given details over the coming months of where your contributions should be sent to.
Another form of preaching would be to visit and offer comfort and reassurance to those elderly who know they are close to the end of their life and are preparing to meet God and their heavenly Dominican family. While not everyone is suited to this task, it is a wonderful privilege to pray and meditate with someone who is close to travelling into the next phase of eternity. Sensitivity is of the utmost importance, as people react differently to this stage of life. Some face the future with peaceful expectation and others do so in fear and trepidation. Allow the elderly member to, as it were, set the stage for your visits while you gently encourage deeper communication. If the member is living at home being cared for by a relative, it may be a blessing for the carer that you are there to support and guide the family through this emotional and sometimes, for them, fearful time; leading them in prayer and guiding them through the process and rituals surrounding their passage from this life to the next.
It is not only a question of what we have to offer to the sick, disabled and elderly Lay Dominicans but to be aware of the great riches we will receive from them – their wisdom, experience of life and depth of spirituality, the Blessings and Grace we can share with each other.
I invite you to take extracts from this article for your local Lay Dominican newsletters as not everybody has access to a computer.
Anne Marie Lee