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Column: Combating loneliness strengthens community

One of the things I do as a Chaplain is call the people new to Hospice. It is my charge to see if the new patients would like to have a visit from the Chaplain or be connected to their pastor, rabbi, or minister of their own Faith Community. The phone calls can be short. Most people have their minister or often request a visit from me. ( many tell me they want nothing in the way of spiritual services; I respect this.) It all comes down to a reminder that we humans are mortal. In our current culture, many know this as a reality, but few want to think about the finality of death.

I called one of my new patients some months ago and asked if he belonged to any Church or community. He was reluctant to answer; He said he was a local church member. But had not been attending any church for years. Many older people lose touch with their churches since getting there and participating is difficult.

I started to talk to him about how much God loves us. How merciful God is to us. There was sudden silence at the end of the phone. (He had told me earlier that he was comfortable where he was) Till I started to talk to him. After a long silence, he said, “You took my breath away; I could not respond.” Thinking about his coming death and God were topics he was struggling with mentally and spiritually. His loneliness and unhappiness were coming through the phone and seeking help. All of this was evident in the rest of our conversation.

Our elderly population is often isolated, not only by disability or location or being too old to be mobile anymore; they need their neighbor, family, and Church to care for them. Each church in our area should have an outreach group that can help dispel the loneliness. Often, these people have no family, or the family lives far away. It is a Christian duty to care not only for their elderly members but also for those neighbors who live around us.

I am calling for every Church in our physical area to consider the elders of their community in planning and programs. Often, these elderly people do not reach out because they do not want to burden anyone, least of all those they know. I have found that many organizations have excellent community services but forget about the elders in their planning.

I have been to nursing homes where representatives of the Church enter into the lives of the elderly. Yes, outreach activities are planned, or individual groups are formed in local churches to visit their elderly members, but not enough. Many Churches have monthly services for these people in facilities, but where are the men and women of the individual churches to visit and be one-to-one advocates for their members? Is it because we are all too busy, or is one monthly service adequate? Is the monthly service considered acceptable to cover our duty to the aged?

Christianity is about care, seeing others, and ministering to the “least of our brothers.” It is not about awards for programs that make television news or newspaper articles about state recognition. It is about meeting one soul to another, exchanging life stories and compassion, and above all, letting the older person know they are yet essential and loved. We bring love, respect, and the joy of Salvation. As Christians, we are confident that we are loved. The doom and gloom surrounding death in our current culture does not bring the joy of Jesus to the very souls who need it the most.

I ask every Christian church that reads this article to go back to your church and see how you can help relieve the loneliness and isolation our elders suffer. To establish a group of more than likely willing volunteers who would visit weekly, the old, incapacitated, and members of their church. To visit, talk with, laugh with, and remind these souls of the Joy of heaven and the mercy of a loving God.

We are all connected in this life. We are all pilgrims on a path; let us help one another to make the road less steep and the sky less threatening and receive the sunrise each day with praise and thanksgiving. AMEN

Kathleen Carlton Johnson, Ph.D., is a hospice chaplain.

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