Heather Huot

Growing up in Northeast Philadelphia, Saturdays were by far my favorite day of the week. There was no school and I woke up early to watch Saturday morning cartoons on TV. What I really loved about Saturdays, however, was time with my grandmom. My mom worked every Saturday. So my grandmom would arrive at our house by 7:30 a.m. always with a package of chocolate chip cookies in her arms and we would start the day.

We would take walks on the avenue together, go to the swimming pool, or just sit around listening to her sing as she picked up around the house — and she always made dinner. I can still smell her veal stew simmering in the kitchen. All throughout my childhood, she was a mainstay, always there for us.

Pope Francis has designated July 25 as the First World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly. This initiative is meant to underscore the importance of older adults in our lives and the vast wealth they offer to younger generations. The theme for this year’s celebration is “I am with you always” (Mt. 28: 30).

When I heard the theme, I couldn’t believe how absolutely perfect it is. As the director of Catholic Housing and Community Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia (CHCS), which provides a continuum of care to older adults throughout the five-county Philadelphia area, I have witnessed first-hand throughout the course of this pandemic the heightened feelings of isolation, fear and uncertainty that our older adults across this archdiocese have struggled with. As so many seniors struggle to feel connected under normal circumstances, I know these feelings faced by our older adults during this time are especially difficult.

In Pope Francis’ message for the First World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, he calls attention to the angels that the Lord sends into the lives of seniors to remind them of God’s presence. Listening to Pope Francis, I am proud of all the angels that do the work of CHCS and help further our mission.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, CHCS staff have been a pillar of strength and a constant presence for our seniors. Our parish elder care managers have made thousands of wellness phone calls. Our senior community centers throughout Philadelphia have made sure that seniors have had access to nutritious food and food related resources all while finding creative ways to provide activities despite being apart. Our housing care managers have brought food to every resident of our affordable housing communities and knocked on doors to make sure everyone was okay.

As she aged, my grandmom began to suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease, and although her memory was failing, she still had the spark that lit up every room she entered. Even when she couldn’t remember our names, her kindness and big heart reached out to us. As the disease progressed, everything began to dim.  She was living in a memory care facility and was just a shell of the woman we had grown up knowing.

When that time arrived, the tables had turned and we needed to be there for her just as she had always been there for us. Even though conversation was difficult, we could sit with her. We could hold her hand. We could let her know that we were with her always. And every once in a while, we would see that spark and a glimpse of the woman we once knew.

I will always see the image of Grandmom pulling up in her olive green Dodge Dart. Every Saturday, I saw God’s presence in my life through all of the little ways that she was there for me and my siblings.

As Pope Francis calls us to celebrate our elders, let us all remember it is our turn to be an angel for the elders who have shaped us.

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Heather Huot, MSW, LSW, is the Director of Catholic Housing and Community Services for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.