Elaine Abels, RSCJ believes that every interaction provides an opportunity for a mutual exchange and an awareness of the Divine within. This conviction is the foundation of her ministry as spiritual care director at The Sarah Community, a non-profit elder care community in Bridgeton, Missouri, with three buildings offering different levels of care, from independent retirement living to skilled nursing care. While Sister Elaine is there to meet the spiritual needs of 300+ residents, she spends the majority of her time with the residents of the skilled nursing home, Anna House. Many of these residents have some degree of dementia, and there is usually some member of the community close to death. Sister Elaine is grateful to be with them.
“What really gives me life is my interaction with the residents and staff,” Sister Elaine says. “Part of the gift of my ministry is that they slow me down and have a marvelous wisdom to share. I have to pay attention and be fully present to receive the gift of each one and understand what it is they need from me.”
Religious of the Sacred Heart are called to be both wholly apostolic and wholly contemplative. Sister Elaine finds that her ministry to seniors, and especially to those who are dying, allows her to live her mission every day. “My real passion is tied to that charism of discovering and making God’s love known. I hope to raise the awareness of the reality of that love … By seeking to be a contemplative presence, I hope to touch hearts, to open, deepen the meaning and the love in both of our lives.”
Working with people with dementia comes with many challenges, but Sister Elaine finds joy and delight, and yes, hope. “Some moments are pure gift,” she says, relating a story of a resident with dementia. When offered the chance to speak on the karaoke, she hesitated, then said, “I’m just me.”
“How marvelous! We all need to know that’s all we are with God, just me. And that’s enough,” Sister Elaine said. “The Divine dwells in each person and calls to each of us in every interaction. We just need to be attentive to recognize it.”