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Spirituality and Aging

 Meadows Mennonite Retirement Community July 02, 2015

By Rev. Jane Thorley Roeschley, Chaplain, Meadows Mennonite Retirement Community

No one can live forever; all will die. No one can escape the power of the grave. — Psalm 89:48

While the senior years are vibrant and full of life for many persons, it is also true that older persons are, each day, a day closer to death. Former abilities decline and independence may give way to a need for care and support. Sadness emerges as major life changes are encountered. Grief must be tended to as losses compound and the deaths of loved ones and friends are endured. As a Chaplain in a senior care community where there are many wonderful things that help residents’ lives remain vibrant, I also note that sadness, depression and grief are constant realities that the people we care about face as they must let go of life as they once knew it.

I also regularly witness how a healthy spirituality can be one of the key strengths and resources an older person possesses when facing the many changes of the final chapters of life. Not everyone is religious — and religious expressions vary among those who are — but I see all persons as spiritual beings. It is part of our created wholeness as humans — we are physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual. Spirituality is the part of us that ponders the mysterious purpose and meaning of life. It is from where the questions about deeper things come. It is the part of us that responds to beauty and joy, that experiences angst or awe, that is inspired to love and serve. For many persons, a sense of the Holy or Divine — of God — is also a central part of their spiritual lives.

Find rest, oh my soul — Psalm 62: 5a

What helps cultivate a healthy spirituality for older persons, especially when navigating the inevitable sadness, losses and decline of their final years? Some of the attributes I have seen in spiritually vital older persons include:
  • The Shift From Doing to Being. We are, first and foremost, human beings. For those who live to older age, the final season of life is very much like the beginning of life in respect to one’s dependence on others, as compared to the long years of self-sufficiency. Healthy spirituality supports the shift from years of production, work, and accomplishment to a focus on valuing the inner qualities of being. Opportunities to more fully explore the interior life and make spiritual connections can be a rich and valued aspect of embracing the transition from human doing to human being.
  • Making Peace With Life’s Disappointments and Imperfections. The slowing days of older persons’ lives provide ample time for making a life review. Regrets about failures and imperfections can loom large. Perhaps there is unfinished business in an important relationship, or things still unsaid. Very likely some regrets are about things with persons no longer living. The challenging task of coming to terms with what one can and cannot repair before life ends is a demanding spiritual task that most often requires the practice of forgiveness, both of others and of oneself. When that forgiveness can be discovered, peace and serenity are its gifts.
  • Giving Thanks. Deceptive in its simplicity, the practice of gratitude as a core part of aging spirituality nets tremendous outcomes. The ability to be aware of the multitude of gifts and graces in each day provides valuable perspective that helps counter-balance the equally present realities of loss and grief inherent in this season of life.
  • Engaging Spiritual Practices in Preparation for Death. As normal questions about life, death, and the afterlife come into more urgent focus near the end of life, spiritual practices and/or participation in religious life can provide helpful support. Each questioning older person joins the throng of humans throughout time in wondering, “What is the meaning of my life? What happens to me when I die?” These are profound and universal questions. Drawing on the resources of one’s religious/spiritual tradition — prayers, scriptures and writings, hymns and music, artistic icons — may provide needed support in the mature task of holding onto ultimate hope in the midst of mystery.
For when I am old and gray, do not forsake me... — Psalm 71:18

A long life is both a blessing and a very real challenge. For all that one values about being alive, there is more to enjoy. At the same time, as capacities decline and loss and grief compound, being older is also a difficult reality. The final years can be more wholesome, meaningful, and rich when our spirituality is tended and cultivated. Supporting the older persons in our lives in cultivating their spirituality, and in nurturing our own, means both the blessings and the challenges of life’s final chapter are healthfully more engaged.

For more information about senior living, you may contact meadows senior director of marketing Holly Hall at 309-268-1501. Meadows offers a full range of senior living options — independent living, independent living-PLUS, assisted living, memory care, skilled nursing care and rehab therapy — with two locations: Meadows Mennonite Retirement Community in Chenoa and Meadows at Mercy Creek in Normal. Meadows is ranked a five-star quality care provider by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Photo credit: AngiePhotos/iStock Back to Top

July 02, 2015

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