Spiritual Practice: Aging Well

Aging

I’ve been thinking a lot about aging lately because, well, I am aging. I don’t feel any older inside, but the years keep adding up.

How do we look at aging as a spiritual practice?

I’ve watched my husband wrestle with these questions as he turned sixty-five and the warranty on his body seems to have expired. Suddenly he needs cataract surgery and hearing aids. With his spiritual director, he has come to a “letting go,” and “embracing of,” stance. You gotta understand. My husband is tall, handsome, with a full head of brown hair. He gets flirted with constantly and is often confused as our granddaughters’ father. These aging issues should feel like a personal affront to him, yet he is choosing to let go of what he has no control over and embrace the process of aging, looking for its gifts. And for him, these gifts are well worth the losses of aging.

This attitude seems to be the key in the books I’m reading on aging. Also, growing older does not mean stopping living.

parker plamer

Parker Palmer, in his fantastic book, On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old, writes a series of essays about the aging process. I love this book for his warmth, honesty, and humor. One of my favorite quotes from the book is this:

“Old age is no time to hunker down unless disability demands it. Old is just another word for nothing left to lose, a time of life to take bigger risks on behalf of the common good.” Pg.2

Palmer speaks a lot about the importance of gratitude and the ability, to tell the truth in love, no longer needing to posture or pretend. That is beautiful. He also says we need to embrace everything inside us, our true selves and our shadows, with grace and love. This leads to our wholeness.

falling upward

That reminded me of a book by Richard Rohr, “Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life,” in which he describes one of the main tasks of the second half of life as sifting through the first half and making sense of it, learning its lessons, facing our shadows.  Rohr says this process is not necessarily about aging but after suffering a loss, any of us can begin this process of facing the difficult truths about ourselves, though some choose not to. As we do, we become wise instead of bitter. Parker agrees, saying these traumas can either break our heart apart or break it open to love more.  (pg. 161)

women rowing

Another book that has helped me is, “Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age.” In this book, Mary Pipher uses case studies describing how different women have navigated the aging process. She writes a lot about gratitude and the inner work of aging:

“This may be the most important thing – that we learn to grant ourselves mercy. That we forgive ourselves, that we accept our pain, mistakes, and vulnerability, and somehow manage to love ourselves and our own lives…It is only when we grant ourselves mercy that we can extend mercy to others.” Pg. 158

What I’m learning so far is that aging is about grieving and letting go of the physical losses we can’t control and working hard on the things we can control. Processing our lives, integrating our lessons, and being honest with ourselves about ourselves in grace and love. As we do this difficult inner work it frees us to give back to the world. It allows us, as Parker Palmer says, to “take bigger risks for the common good.”

What are you learning about the process of aging? Are there books you’d like to share?

 

 

Photo credit

 

 

 

Grieving As Transformation

cup

Last week, to honor the one-year anniversary of my mother’s sudden death, and the six-month anniversary of my job loss, I attended a grief workshop.

About twenty of us sat in a circle around a beautiful, multi-tiered display of broken mugs. There were many kinds, colors, and shapes of mugs. Some were merely chipped, some were smashed, and some had no handle. The analogy centered on Psalm 3:12 which says, “I have become like a broken vessel.”

We were told to pick a mug that resembled how we felt, and then we had twenty minutes to spend thinking through some questions we were given about the mug and our grieving process.

The people in the group were all over the map in their grief work: one woman looked like she was still in shock, head bowed, eyes wide, unable to speak. Her husband had died six months ago and he was only in his forties.

One man had lost his wife two years ago, but described his heart as “shattered.” He looked like he was on the verge of a physical heart shattering with the level of pain he was still holding in.

Some had lost grown children, others lost parents who left them orphaned, as only children, with no children of their own for comfort. Each had their own process of grief.

Some were not grieving the death of a loved one, but a divorce or retirement from a beloved profession.

I chose a cup with no handle because losing my mother and my job felt like losing the things I held on to, the things that took a large chunk of my time and made up a large part of my identity.

But as I examined my cup I saw that it was still beautiful, useful and mostly intact. I saw that it could function very well without its handle…life was going on for me and for the most part, my life is very beautiful. I have a wonderful husband and fantastic children and grandchildren. I work, I write, I have a ministry. I am happy.

When we returned from our time of reflection, we talked about our cups. Everyone had found hope in this exercise in some small way. It gave us words for our experience of grief.

At lunch, we put our cups at the foot of the cross in the chapel. Later, when we returned, there was a new display at the center of the room: it contained beautiful, colorful, whole cups. We were each allowed to choose one and take it home. A cup of blessing.

I realized that I have come far in my grieving process. I am letting go. I’m sure there will be times when I continue to be blindsided by grief, but I have come a long way in healing. And the point of this exercise drove home for me that grief can lead us to transformation, to new places of depth, compassion, and growth. (Tweet This)

In one handout adapted from Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy by J. William Worden, Ph.D., it listed four stages of grief which I will briefly sketch here:

    1. To accept the reality of the loss: When someone dies, even if death is expected, there is always a sense that it hasn’t happened. The first task of grieving is to come full face with the reality that the person is dead.
    2. To experience the pain of grief: Many people (and society) try to avoid painful feelings. You must allow yourself to experience and express your feelings, difficult though they may be.
    3. To adjust to an environment in which the deceased is missing: There may be many practical daily affairs you need help and advice with, but there will be a great sense of pride in being able to master these challenges.
    4. To withdraw emotional energy and reinvest it in another relationship: The final task is to effect an emotional withdrawal so that this emotional energy can be used in continuing a productive life.

I learned that each person’s grief is completely unique. It doesn’t really help to compare our grief or expect another to grieve like we do. But, it does help to share the human experience of grief with others who are going through it.

Where are you at in your grief experience? What kind of cracked cup are you and what does God say about it? I’d love to hear about your grief experience so we can hold our cups up together and toast a life of transformation.

 

 

On-line Dating for Seniors or Dating My Mother!

Online-dating

Many of us in my generation are dealing with a lot of difficult issues concerning our aging parents. After my father’s death, my mom was desperately lonely. So when she came to live with us, I started dating her online. I found a free dating site, sat up a profile for her and monitored it so she could enjoy some male attention.
Here are some of the things I learned from dating my mother.
1. Make a day of the photo shoot. Mom and I had a great time picking lots of outfits for her to change into and taking shots all over the house in different poses. We even did some outside.

Mom and Carl                                                           And the Winner is…Carl!
2. Monitor who’s trying to contact your mother. I deleted all the thirty-year-old prisoners who “really liked older women” before she ever saw them.
3. Set up safe coffee dates for your mom. This got mom out of the house and socializing – but safely.
4. If someone seems iffy, drop in on a date. Mom felt one guy might be after her money. So, we set up a lunch date and my husband and I went along. When the guy saw us, his face fell. He knew he was busted and didn’t even offer to pay for lunch.
5. Sneak the age category up when Mom’s not looking. My mom was beautiful and young at heart and at 73, she didn’t want to date anyone over 75. So after a series of losers (like the guy who said he had a cabin and boat at the lake, and only had a shack and rowboat), I sneaked the age limit up to 80. That’s when we met Carl. He’s a retired engineer with a kind heart and a good pension. Mom, who’d never left the USA, has now traveled the world and spent the last eight years with the greatest gift our family has ever received.

So, I’d love to hear your online dating stories. Good or bad. They are fascinating! Also, how have you helped your older, or younger, friends deal with loneliness?