An honest account of life in community and with illness

October 1, 2008 – 11:59 am

In Age Reborn, By Grace Sustained
One Woman’s Journey through Aging and Illness
Thelma-Anne McLeod, SSJD
ISBN 978-1-55126-498-1
soft cover, 142 pages, $18.95

Reviewed by Neville Cheeseman
The New Brunswick Anglican

Had I not been asked to review this book, I probably would not have read it, even though I have known Sister Thelma-Anne for more than forty years.

That would have been my great loss.

This account of Sister Thelma-Anne’s aging with Parkinson’s disease begins with a look at her pre-diagnosis life. As a young woman she considered herself an agnostic, like her father. She was a good student and assumed she would pursue an academic career. In her final year at Queen’s University, however, she [experienced] “an unmistakable, self-validating presence of the Divine.” It was the turning-point in her life. She left university, took a business course and became a secretary in a law office. Later she embarked on an active and energetic vocation as a Sister of St. John the Divine (SSJD), an Anglican monastic community.

Monasticism is misunderstood in our secular culture and virtually unknown within many parts of Canadian Anglicanism, so Sister Thelma-Anne introduces us to life in her community early on in the book.

With that background, she goes on to record her journey through aging and Parkinson’s. It is an honest account. She shares her frustrations, anxieties, and the dry periods in her prayer life. It is a validation of the feelings of other Christians in the same kind of situation. It also shatters the myth that clergy, monks, and nuns are not vulnerable to the same doubts and difficulties we encounter and endure.

Sister Thelma-Anne always took pride in her self-sufficiency and independence. As she grew older and weaker she came to realize the importance of the support of her sisters in SSJD, as well as her other friends and associates. She even came to the realization that she was allowed, that it was even necessary, to take time for herself. “I needed to give myself permission to enjoy life; to build-in times of leisure and enjoyment, to nurture friendships, and have fun, rather than feeling that I must fill every second with something I could justify as useful. Though I could spend a whole day happily in my room, I needed the social dimension for a balanced life.” (p. 92)

The “Suggestions for Reflection/Discussion” … at the end of each chapter are an important component of the book. The questions provide an opportunity for all of us-individuals, care partners, families and small groups-to wrestle with the increasingly pervasive social and spiritual issues raised in her book. It offers valuable insight, and I recommend it highly to clergy, parish visitors, parish nurses, and anyone else involved in pastoral care.