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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Thrower

Theology of ageing – Janet Smith style

Updated: Aug 9, 2023

An interesting hour-long discussion you might like to watch between Catholic theology professors focusing on the experience of Dr Janet Smith as a carer for her mother living with dementia. Dr Smith who has her own website was teaching Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit at the time of the recording in 2015.

Sharing her mother’s care with her five brothers and sisters, and her nieces and nephews, Janet Smith offers insights not only into the day-to-day responsibilities she has but also into society’s attitudes towards older people when they are no longer seen as ‘productive.’

Alongside her are Dr Scott Hahn and Dr Regis Martin, both based at Franciscan University, Ohio. Janet Smith describes the effects on her life of being ‘other directed’, compared with her customary life as a single woman, ‘living alone, I have time for my coffee in the morning, my own prayer time, doing what I like’, but that’s not the case during the six months of the year when she is a primary carer.

Leavened with humour, the discussion ranges over how her mother’s condition has taught her invaluable lessons (and not just where best to store her mother’s three ‘walkers’ or Zimmer frames!) but how depending on God just to get through the days, sometimes, has meant her life is ‘just washed with grace’ and has brought powerful feelings ‘that you’re not alone in this.’ Dr Hahn also spoke up for those people whose relatives they care for are not ‘full of gratitude’, but are negative, bitter, and hard to spend long spells of time with.

Dr Smith’s emphasis on the importance of ‘stories’ as opposed to relying only on arguments in relation to big societal issues, chimes with the accompaniment ministry that is characteristic of Anna Chaplaincy for Older People. Amused by the anecdote that the reason why there are so many people on earth is that ‘God loves stories’… she concluded: ‘We need to become terrific storytellers, that’s our job.’

Watch the debate for yourself, and you’ll come away with several arresting and memorable stories as well as cogent arguments for why older people really do matter.



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