This season’s liturgy reminds us of the end of life and of the final destiny we hope to achieve. Those of us who have lived long lives are acutely aware, with each passing day, that our vitality, like the sunshine, is weakening and that dark, cold days lie ahead.
Recently, my wife and I spent an evening in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with Emma Gomez, a longtime friend who is 87 years old. As I walked her to her car after a dinner rich in reminiscence, she said her carotid artery is 97 percent blocked on one side and 98 percent on the other. I think we both sensed it might be our last goodbye.
I had the same thought during a reunion with four of my brothers this past summer at the family ranch. Part of the 600 acres was acquired by our great-grandfather Estanislado Sandoval in the 1840s and the rest by our grandfather Octaviano. So it was natural to remember their lives, always brimming with struggle and hard work but strong in the values we inherited.
Four of us are in our 80s and the fifth brother is 76. Yet, like the stars of the movie, “The Bucket List,” we feel there are still things to do. Our list, to be sure, is modest because, realistically, age limits our possibilities.
Antonio, a permanent deacon in full-time service to the church for 40 years, wants to spend the rest of his life nurturing a devotion to the Virgin Mary. Though retired, he remains active in the ministry: preaching, giving talks to various groups and writing.
As he sat at the bedside of his terminally ill wife, Maud, daily for two years, he wrote a book that is currently before several publishers.
Ray, the youngest, goes to Mass daily, does volunteer work in the parish office, in Aurora, Colorado, preparing the weekly bulletin among other tasks, and also helps serve lunch at a senior center. Though retired after teaching in high schools for 40 years, he still works occasionally as a substitute teacher. When asked about his motivation, he says: “I am simply preparing for my final exam.”
Elivinio, a dentist for 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, achieving the rank of full colonel, runs a dental clinic with a big staff in Aurora, gives generously to the church and to many individuals, including immigrants with needy relatives in their home countries. Moreover, he still sees patients.
My other brother Arsenio is a caretaker on a ranch and is active in Alcoholics Anonymous.
Like my brothers, I continue working, writing about persons whose faith inspires. For all of us, it seems that the challenge is to continue to live courageously as long as we can. There are still things to write about, to see, to do, issues to support and people to help.
I admire our friend Emma, who, despite many hospitalizations, says: “The Blessed Mother still gives me things to do.” She still takes Communion to the homebound and visits her sister-in-law, who is in a nursing home and suffers from dementia. On her birthday, Emma delivered the pastries she loves.
Though last year she became ill at the airport with symptoms of a stroke, she plans to fly again to St. Louis to be with one of her sons for Thanksgiving. A brave woman!