Overcoming Senior Despondency

Overcoming Senior Despondency

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Ron Tritschler of Washington, Pennsylvania, went into a tailspin when his wife, Reva, received a liver cancer diagnosis. Although doctors predicted a life expectancy of two years, the couple had high hopes that Reva could receive a liver transplant. Then Reva developed aortic valve problems. That risk factor, combined with her age, meant no transplant.

Although Reva lived for six years after the diagnosis, Ron served as her full-time caregiver for five of those years. In the final stages. Ron had to prepare Reva’s meals, dress her, and feed her.

Afterwards, Ron went to a grief and loss seminar led by Catherine Peternel, endorsed chaplain with a U.S. Missions Chaplaincy Ministries working at Canonsburg General Hospital, 30 miles southwest of Pittsburgh.

Following the classes, Ron confided to Peternel that he contemplated taking his own life.

“I was suicidal,” admits Tritschler, 80. “She took me aside and talked to me for an hour and a half. She changed my way of thinking. She convinced me to put my faith in God, which I’ve done ever since. She saved my life and turned it around.”

Not only that, but Peternel persuaded Tritschler that he could heal faster if he assisted her in pastoral care. For the past decade he has been a volunteer, helping others talk though their grief.

“Cathy has helped countless others,” Tritschler says. “She made me see what a big burden it would have been if I had taken my life.” Tritschler has five children, 10 grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.

“Ron has touched so many people who have lost loved ones,” Peternel says. “People can help each other through so many things.”

Peternel herself felt fortified from others in February when she fell ill. Her three sons and daughter — all involved in pastoral ministry — all initiated prayer with their mother in intensive care. A CT scan and angiogram showed Peternel had sustained an arteriovenous malformation — a tangling of abnormal blood vessels connecting arteries and veins in the brain. Prayer requests went through her network of contacts at the hospital and at her children’s churches.

“People were praying that Sunday morning,” Peternel says. “I felt strength I couldn’t explain.”

Within three days she had miraculously returned to work, avoiding months of expected rehabilitation.

“The Lord used it to speak volumes at the hospital,” Peternel says. A magnetic resonance angiography image and an additional CT scan later showed no evidence of bleeding in her brain.

Peternel, 69, just resigned after 28 years as an Allegheny Health Network chaplain.

“I don’t believe in retirement,” Peternel says. “I’m just getting a new set of tires.”

Her new path, which started July 30, is serving as community chaplain and adult seniors pastor at a trio of AG congregations. Son Nathan is lead pastor at Life Church, an Assemblies of God congregation in Fishers, Indiana, which has satellite campuses in Noblesville and Eagle Creek. Peternel’s daughter, Donya, serves as children’s pastor at Eagle’s Creek and her husband, Michael Maleto is campus pastor there. Son Paul is pastor at Christian Assembly of God in Bentleyville, Pennsylvania, while son Aaron pastors Robinson Free Methodist Church in Illinois. Peternel’s husband, Daniel, is a semiretired AG minister who has been a spiritual adviser to a local ministry called Men of Honor.

In her new role, Peternel hopes to recruit seniors to get involved in such ministries as nursing home services and hospital visitation. As at the hospital, where she trained 28 volunteers aged 65-90, including Tritschler, she wants to help seniors recover from grief and loss.

“By sharing what they’ve gone through, seniors can find a new purpose in life and realize they still are valuable in ministry,” Peternel says.

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