Matthew Gambino

“Take the Long Way Home” is the title of an old song, a driving song. It had always felt good to sing along on a warm summer night’s drive with the windows down. While as a young man I used to go as I pleased, these days the song has taken on new meaning.

My elderly mother, 91, lives in a senior memory care community not far from our family home. My young days, and hers too, have slipped beyond her recollection. At least she still knows me and my siblings.

One or two days a week I visit her and we talk about little things, play some bingo together or listen to music. She is always pleasant and I know she is well cared for. Still, there is a sadness witnessing her decline from quickness and strength to the slow fade of frailty and dementia.

Because I don’t live far from her community, it only takes a few minutes to drive home. But I just can’t walk through my door with the shadow of sadness over Mom. So I take a long, out-of-the-way drive along roads without the radio for company, only the memories of years past and the present reality.

A cousin whom I hadn’t seen in a year asked how Mom was doing. The easy answer was “Well,” but he knew there was more to it than that. He told me that after his visits with his own mother, now passed, he would sit in his car in the lot and bawl.

Memories crashing into the present can be shocking and overwhelming, but they can’t be avoided. They must be faced, and perhaps raised up in prayer.

Decline for everyone is inevitable. We’re all going to get old and with difficulty approach that final journey home, to heaven.

The emotional dilemma of past vs. present hangs over the moments spent with our elderly parent or loved one, yet we willingly spend that time with generosity.

For nursing and support staff in a senior facility, the focus is on the hard work of the present. That is often augmented by pastoral care ministers of local faith communities, including our Catholic parishes.

These unsung bearers of mercy provide prayerful visits often with the gift of Holy Communion to infirm elderly people whose strong faith is evident with every visit.

Recently I became one of those ministers at a senior community in my parish. Residents might be forgetful, or endure all manner of painful ailments. But begin leading the Lord’s Prayer or a Hail Mary, and the lips of every person proclaim (or whisper) a bedrock faith without fail. If you’re looking for brightness amidst sadness, there’s a beautiful example.

Next month students will be returning to schools, and the focus of families, parishes and communities will turn to the young people and their growth. Rightly so. But for this month, say a prayer of your own for the elderly – especially those men and women nearing the end of their long drive through life. Perhaps you can even find time to visit and pray with them.

Then before you go home, drive an impractical, winding course. Offer a prayer of thanksgiving to almighty God for the gift of life – yours and your big brothers and sisters in faith. Pray to the Holy Spirit for comfort and strength. Make it a prayerful meditation on life, death and eternal life — your eyes fixed ahead, your hands on the wheel.


Matthew Gambino is the pastoral assistant at St. Teresa of Avila Parish, Norristown.