Life review is a common spiritual practice in which I lead my hospice patients. It is an opportunity for them to tell me about such things as their childhood, career, time spent as a parent, or their adventures through life. Often life review becomes a pathway to healing those lingering regrets, deep guilt, or broken relationships. Ultimately, it is a practice that can lead to the acceptance of one’s mortality and embracement of his or her belief in what comes after death. I found this quote recently which seemed to reflect this aspect of my work beautifully!
Whatever your beliefs, may you be at peace with the ebb and flow of your life.
“We see the water of a river
flowing uninterruptedly and passing away,
And all that floats on its surface—
rubbish or beams of trees—
all passes by.
Christian! So it is with our life…
I was an infant, and that time has gone.
I was an adolescent, that that too has passed.
I was a young man, and that is also far behind me.
The strong and mature man that I was is no more.
My hair turns white, I succumb to age, but that too passes away;
I approach the end and will go the way of all flesh.
When visiting with many of my elderly hospice patients it is very common for an individual to repeat the same story…over…and over…and over again, nearly verbatim. I have found with many of my older men, they tell the story of their business successes—the good ‘ol days when they were able bodied and in control of their lives. For others, it’s the betrayal they endured, or the road trips they took, or the unforgiveness they carry, or the grief they still bear years into their widowhood.
As I sit with these individuals anticipating the next part of the story, I wonder what my story will be. What will I be fixated on?
Will I talk about my work as a chaplain or my role as a mother? Will my monologue be made up of the same two or three pearls of wisdom from lessons of the past?
In my causal observations it would appear that our focus in life becomes the tale we tell. Of those elderly men retelling the stories of the business years, for instance, many of them rarely speak of their familial relationships.
I also question why a particular story gets stuck in the wash, rinse, repeat cycle of the pyche. For those who speak of their working day accomplishments, have they been unable to surrender to this season of their life that is more, as I’ve said in previous posts, about being than of doing? Does the unfinished business of our lives become that which we relive or at least retell over and over?
How do we avoid this? And can we?
As we age, are we doomed to be left with only enough brain cells to share that which has been burned into our memories for whatever reason—out of pride, fear, or loss? Dementia certain plays a significant part in this story-retelling, but can it be avoided otherwise?
I do meet many people who do not repeat the same stories. These are the ones who are not stuck in the past. Neither are they fixated on the future. They are the individuals whose lives are lived out in the moment; who journey free of the baggage of their past and are unattached to the outcomes of tomorrow.
As we settle into 2015, let us consider the stories we are already writing in our lives.
What memories are you creating? Are your obsessions on the daily pages of your life, or are you remembering to balance your goal-chasing with purposeful play? Do you spend just as much time with your coworkers as you do your family and friends? Are you burning bridges or mending fences? Are you harboring regrets and resentments or are you setting your sites on healing from your past? Are you living by your faith?
The choices are yours.
Years from now, what story will you tell?
Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way. Colossians 3: 17 (The Message)
While purchasing some second-hand pants recently I was asked by the clerk if I “qualified for the 10% discount.” The blank look on my face led her to simply ask “55?”
Ah, I thought, she’s wondering if I am 55 so I can qualify for the “senior” thrift store discount. That’s.. just…great.
Although my face probably winced, I was gracious and resisted blurting out, “Yeah… in a DECADE I’ll be that OLD!” Inwardly I was horrified that I looked older than my physical age of 44.
After a bout of self-pity, I got to thinking…
What is sowrong with being thought of as 55?
Was I being vain? Absolutely. I was quick to scrutinize my looks after that. Who was the culprit? Was it my glasses, my hair style or lack thereof, my wrinkles, or my outfit that made me look 10 years older?
As I continued to fret over the woman’s question, it became all too clear that I’m an ageist too. Why else would I react so negatively?
We live in a society that values Youth.
Except for underage, young adults trying to get into a local night club, people in general do not desire to look older than they really are.
No one wants to be old. Most of the elderly patients I visit don’t want to be old. I even have a 95-year old woman who tells me nearly every time I visit with her, “Don’t get old.”
Getting old means your body and brain don’t function the way they used to. You smell funny. You dress funny. You act funny. You are certainly NOT sexy. You’re irrelevant, seen as out-of-date or out-of-touch, unable to keep up with the changing times.
These are stereotypes, of course, and sadly what younger generations are taught in various ways to think about the elderly.
Much to my joy, our church celebrated Elder Sunday this past week.
What a wonderful celebration of the individuals 60 and older in our congregation. Our elders preached, sang, danced, prayed, and led our worship time. After the service, the congregation had the opportunity to see the many talents of our elders who are writers, photographers, artists, mechanics, etc.
My children were especially impressed with a woman who began creating beautiful scenes with miniatures at age 60. Her french knot rugs were truly incredible!! 25 years later she’s still at it.
We need more of these celebrations in our congregations, and in our towns and cities.
We must reclaim the sanctity of Elderhood, to honor our elders for the wisdom and insights they offer.
And for my own part?
I shalI honor the elder I am becoming. I will embrace the changes, even at 44, I am beginning to see in my body.
I will celebrate the many life lessons I have learned. I will rejoice that I am still alive to learn even more of what life and my faith have to teach me!
And yes, the next time I am asked if I qualify for the senior discount, I will resist the fear and stereotypes of aging by celebrating the sanctity of Elderhood.