Benedictine Resiliency at Age 99

Sister Helen Lange amazed me again! Sure she’s shown plenty of spunk in her life time: entering the convent in 1930, dealing with running a large Catholic elementary and junior high school in Jacksonville Beach, teaching others at Holy Name Academy in St. Leo’s, FL. and widely traveling, singing, directing, retreating, and praying. But this last venture felt like the end of the line for my beloved junior high school principal. Macular degeneration had reduced her eyesight to simply shadows. It was harder to get out with the “red hat/purple scarf” ladies.


But being moved to an assisted living facility—away from all she knew and the beloved routine of daily Mass, comforting rituals, and sisterly camaraderie left her upset and less-than happy. That was 8 months ago. Her Christmas letter to me, dictated to a typist, once again showed this determination to see the glass half full. Imagine, age 99 and she can reframe a community. She says this: “The lame, blind, the troubled in mind and body are now my new community.  I am beginning to see the hand of God in this, it has become my garden of laughter and cheer. For example, Martha, age 90 came all the way over to my room in the opposite wing, looking for her car keys. I told her we’d go down to her room and look for them. I kept talking all the way down, trying to distract her. Since she loves to sing, I began singing ‘Let Me Call You Sweet Heart’. She chimed in and forgot all about her keys. God is still performing miracles. It takes so little to distract Martha., I must have a pocket full of fibs ready. I hope God forgets the number of fibs I have squandered. “ Reframing is an incredible resiliency skill. Sister Helen continues to laugh at herself and find joy in the oddities of her fellow human beings. Imagine: Age 99. I wish I had 25% of her courage and ability to be an intelligent optimist.

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