File consists of a video recording of an interview with Nouwen at L'Arche Daybreak for the University of Notre Dame Alumni Continuing Education on April 3, 1996. Nouwen spoke on caring for aging parents and the spiritual challenges of aging.
The video is of high quality, although it is not possible to hear the questions of the interviewer. Nouwen covers many themes including belovedness, death, dying, caring, caregivers, aging, care, cure, and spiritual disciplines. Nouwen identifies aging as a letting go of our identity as what we do, what we earn etc. and learning our true identity as the Beloved sons and daughters of God. He suggests that aging brings us closer to our true identity. Aging is about becoming more dependent but it offers us the space to find the truth of who we are. This is the great spiritual challenge of aging.
He addresses some of the following questions:
How do we overcome our fear of aging? Answer: We require a discipline that reminds us constantly of being the Beloved. These disciplines are: friendship, prayer, community, and celebration of life. Again the spiritual challenge is how do I let go and discover the deeper truth of who I am.
How to be a good caregiver? Answer: Nouwen refers to the gospel which says "Blessed are the poor" and exclaims that we are all poor. The caregiver must believe and perceive that God's blessing is rooted in the poverty of the poor. To be a good caregiver we must start discovering the gift our aging parent has to offer us. One of these gifts is to be called back to the centre of your being. All the work of caring for the aging can make us resentful, but we have to make an inner shift that allows the parent to give us the gift of going deeper within ourselves to find out what life is all about. Burnout happens when a caregiver does not receive the gifts of the poor. It requires a discipline to receive and we can only do this if we are well cared for. Need to constantly renew perspective on what we are doing and live joyfully receiving the gifts of the dying. This is an enormous spiritual challenge - to discover the gifts of aging and dying people.
To be really present to the person dying (ministry of presence); know the value of the ministry of absence and when to set some limits to look after your own needs; take time out to be with people who can support you. The most difficult thing is to be half way there and resentful. Be fully present for shorter periods of time.
Care means to struggle with. It is the same word as compassion. To care is to be with people in their weakness, pain and struggle without needing to cure. All you need to say is "I love you and really want to be with you, even if I can't cure you." Joy comes from being with. It is hard to be with people we can't change, but you can develop a spiritual discipline to care rather than cure.
Nouwen also emphasized the importance of the caregiver coming to terms with their own mortality. He reminds the interviewer that aging and dying don't start at the end of life, but that we are all in the process of aging and dying. Compassion means "I am with you because I know in my own self that I too am dying, that I am on the same journey as you." The caregiver needs to feel solidarity and intimacy with the person dying in order for care to be possible. Not only does the caregiver need to be in touch with their own dying, they need to learn the discipline to deal with little disappointments as well.
Nouwen talks about the reasons for his decision to leave Yale and Harvard. He says: "I realized that to get to the core of my being, to move to a different plateau I needed to be more focused on the poor and the weak. I knew that by connecting myself with the poor they would lead me to the core of life. They would allow me to find the blessing they had for me.
Regarding his accident in 1989: Through this near-death experience Nouwen learned the importance of forgiveness and what is important in life. He explains that although he is still compulsive in some regards, underneath is a sense of being God's beloved son and that the people he meets are God's beloved sons and daughters too. It is through this common identity that we can meet each other.
Regarding his father: He was extremely grateful for the time he was having with his 93 year old father. He says: "I am immensely grateful for the time I spent with him, just for him.".
Regarding dying: He mentions the gospel story when Jesus says "It is good for you that I am dying because I can send you my spirit". He goes on to say that most people who are dying say "how much can I still do?". But the real question is: "how can I prepare myself so my death becomes a gift for those I leave behind?". The question of aging spiritually is "How can I make my life a gift for others?". This is aging into life. Of course there will be grief and mourning, but a person dying spiritually can say "I am ready to go. I hope you are ready to receive the Spirit of love that I will send you."
Reads from his book about his grandmother's death.
Alludes to death of Connie Ellis to say that being with her while she was dying brought him to an inner place of silence.
He concludes with some practical advice about how to
- speak but also be quiet
- touch if appropriate and just be there
- ask "do you like to pray?"
- "do you want me to read something"
- "do you want more/less visitors?"
- "do you want to be alone for awhile?"
- "is there anyone you would like to see?"
- "can I write a letter for you?"
- treat them like friends
- take time for your own life
- be clear when you are coming back and stick to it
- invite people like priests etc.
- visit like it is a privilege, try to give words to your affection, "I know it is hard for you, but I am here."
Life is an interruption of eternity, for what? For humans to have a chance to say to God I love you too.