Two weeks ago our mother, Frances, moved into her new home, the Jeanne Jugan Center. December 12 marked not only her homecoming but also the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mom’s truest companion throughout life. Early the morning Mom moved in, her treasured portrait of La Virgen first arrived. The simple frame and image with burnished autumn tones, carefully cut and laminated decades earlier, stood before her bed as she walked into her room. Gentle, quiet, and kind, Our Lady’s smile greeted her, perhaps with the same gentleness that shone on humble Juan Diego, now a saint, in the 16th Century. La Virgen de Guadalupe’s grace is not of arrogance but of sincere welcome; it has been evident among this new community every day Mom has lived with her new family.
Throughout her first days, Mom eagerly introduced herself to dozens of Residents and staff. What were the individual stories? Where had each come from? Some tales were of triumphs in life. Other stories hinted at deep pains. Some new friends grew up in her first neighborhood while others had children who went to the same schools as her children. Meals, concerts, activities, and so many conversations occurred in the dining hall and auditorium. Every time she walked into this area, she took a moment to thank St. Jeanne Jugan, whose story is presented through the hall. The saint’s humility and compassion are evident in her life story, one which Mom learns a bit more deeply each time she slowly passes. A former teacher who always advocated for education for females, Mom surely appreciates the leadership and compassion St. Jeanne showed in life. Turning her eyes from St. Jeanne’s story, she sees the same loving advocacy in the nuns here who now listen to the hopes, dreams, and fears of each Resident. With a happy sigh at the end of each day, Mom returned to her favorite spot in her room – her large chair with a view of the statue of Mary in the garden – and let peacefulness sink in.
On December 16, the day of the Posadas celebration, Mom needed to go to the hospital. Throughout that Saturday morning, she was with family who worried about her. She, however, remained steadfast and determined to return soon. In the hospital, we caught the irony of wanting home just like Mary and Joseph were searching for safety and welcome. Realizing this, we gently laughed but felt deeper gratitude for those who shelter and care for our loved ones. Upon returning that afternoon, we all sat with her next to one of the many Nativity sets throughout the residence. We were tired but relieved that all had turned out well. Mother Margaret came and softly called out, “Welcome Home.” We were humbled by her graciousness.
Christmas Even turning to Christmas Day found Mom celebrating the holiday vigil with the nuns, priests, residents, and many family members gathering for Mass. Sister Michael’s flute music sang out a lullaby, and we stood for the entrance procession. As Sister Chantal helped a resident take Baby Jesus to the Nativity crèche, Mom’s eyes filled with tears. Maybe she was
thinking about the significance of Jesus’ birth. It could be that she was reflecting on the births of her own children and many grandchildren. Possibly she was considering the gentle sheep in the manger. Perhaps she was thinking of all these together. Throughout the lovely Mass, she felt more deeply connected to these people who were becoming her extended family.
Mom looks forward to each person who helps her: handymen helping with her room, those who serve meals, nurses, admissions personnel, on and on and on. She calls out jokes, looks forward to stories and pictures, listens to the news, often tells of her new discoveries, and sometimes asks for help because she is determined to grow stronger with every passing day. No, life is not perfect here. Little problems come, yet then so do the solutions. In truth, life here is very human and genuine; it touches upon the heart and beauty of being human. Perhaps that is what Mom most loves about the shared spirit of Mary and Saint Jeanne. It is the same spirit the nuns and employees daily create in her new community.
Each morning she sits at her window and looks up to the expansive sky changing colors as the sun rises. The emerging light appears on the ducks that swim by on the pond, on the tree branches and grass with tiny dew, and in the soft shadows of the statues outside her window. Each new day begins. Though she knows that there will be some pain, bouts of stiffness, and moments of uncertainty, she looks forward to the laughter, stories, shared memories, and new hopes that will take shape. She again eagerly looks forward to greeting dozens of her new friends, so she stands, steadies herself, and begins to walk. She takes a last look at Mary in the garden, passes La Virgen’s protective gaze in her room, sighs in pleasure passing each Nativity scene, and thanks St. Jeanne for compassion and true hospitality. With each person, whether from her first family or this new family community, she is journeying to grace each day.
Written by Jan S. Rog
Reflection about Jeanne Jugan Center
26 December 2017