What is the “autumn of life” about, really? Are a person’s “golden years” simply a time for enduring greater physical limitations, aching for family members far away, or struggling with a sense of idleness? For first—time author Carolyn Bassett, the answer is a resounding “No!” Bassett paints a more proactive and vibrant picture of aging in her book, A Season of Grace: Embracing God’s Gifts in the Autumn of Our Lives.
A Season of Grace presents both the struggles and the joys of aging in a series of short vignettes about real people. Each story, with an accompanying prayer, illustrates another aspect of how fruitful a person’s later years can be. Far from glossing over the challenges of this season, Bassett shares stories that bring new meaning to those challenges. She talks about grieving as well as being grandparents, forgiving long—standing hurts as well as sharing our faith, and much, much more.
All of Bassett’s stories touched my heart, brought a smile to my face, and helped me to look back on the ways God has worked in my own life throughout the years. She reminded me of incidents that prepared me for my current vocation to be a wife, mother, grandmother, and writer—truly, a time of grace.
The Wisdom of Our Elders. One of the stories, entitled “An Ordinary Day,” carries us back in time to an afternoon in 1948 when Bassett, as a little girl, learned that her Aunt Rachel had died. Loving stories shared by family members about Aunt Rachel instilled in her a peaceful acceptance of what it means to fall asleep in Christ. “The experience, given to me by my family, set the foundation of how I see death to this day: an ordinary part of life because of our faith in Christ our Lord, a passing from this life into life eternal.”
This was a vastly different scenario from what I experienced when my aunt passed away. I was thirty—eight and had fallen away from the practice of my Catholic faith. I didn’t expect to feel anything on the morning of her funeral. But when the casket came down the aisle, a wave of light—headedness came over me. I felt panicky. I wanted to run away, but I couldn’t move. The experience left me completely unhinged.
In the weeks that followed, I struggled with many questions. Why was Aunt Rachel’s passing more upsetting to me than my grandparents’ funerals years before? What would happen to me if my parents, my husband, or one of my children passed away?
That summer, I met an elderly man whose wife and son had died in a tragic accident. I told him that I had developed a horrible fear of death. He admitted that losing a loved one is excruciatingly painful, but every time he thought he would not be able to bear the pain, something would happen that gave him the strength to go on. The strength, he told me, comes from God. His thoughtful response was the start of a conversion process that led me back to God and the Catholic Church.
This gentleman didn’t just change my perspective about death—he evangelized me! As Bassett’s book reminded me about our interaction, I felt thankful for the important role this man played in my adult life. It’s a role that could only have been taken on by someone whose wisdom, faith, and trust in God had developed over many years.
A Reason to Hope. A Season of Grace tells many such stories about how we can grow closer to God in and through the circumstances of our older years. Sometimes, this happens through close friends. In another one of her reflections entitled “Grieving with Hope,” Bassett takes us into a small faith—sharing group. A woman, who is grieving the death of her mother, tells the members of her group how the final days of her mother’s illness were a precious gift. The woman didn’t stop there though. She also told her friends about how much she was looking forward to reuniting with her mother in heaven. She was filled with hope! What’s more, she felt supported in her grieving process by Christian women who listened to her with compassion.
The story brought to mind my own experience after my mother died. She and I never had the opportunity to say good—bye, but as I sat by her bedside throughout her final night, I saw her raise her arm as if she were reaching out to someone in her sleep. Early the next morning, her breathing stopped.
This time, as I struggled with the sadness of losing my mother, I could rely on my Catholic faith and the promise of Jesus that he would be with us always. “I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be” (John 14:3). The words of Scripture seemed to answer my grief—filled questions: Was my mother reaching out for Jesus in the night? Had Jesus come to take her to himself? Again, reading one of Carolyn’s stories helped me recall that, yes, there is great reason to hope!
A Bountiful Banquet. Grieving and loss, sharing wisdom and faith, are two sides of life that we encounter as we get older. I chose these themes out of a bountiful banquet of stories on many topics in Bassett’s book. If there is anything A Season of Grace has taught me, it’s that there is much to be grateful for at each stage of our lives. As we age, we can relish—and add to—all of the memories that we have accumulated throughout the years. It reminds us to keep cherishing our most precious treasures: family, friends, the beauty of nature, our triumphs over adversity, the consolation of our faith, and the satisfaction that comes from a life well lived.
Lorene Hanley Duquin writes from New York. She is the author of a forthcoming book with Word Among Us Press: The Catholic Grandparents Handbook: Creative Ways to Show Love, Share Faith and Have Fun.
A Season of Grace: Embracing God’s Gifts in the Autumn of Our Lives (softcover, 168 pp.) by Carolyn Bassett is available from The Word Among Us at www.wau.org and amazon.com.