Embracing Elderhood

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.

old folksAfter a bout of self-pity, I got to thinking…

What is so wrong 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  You’re irrelevant, seen as out-of-date or out-of-touch, unable to keep up with the changing times.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.

Esther Morrison
My grandmother, Esther, who turned 98 this August!

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.






Let it Go

Today’s Spiritual Prescription:

dandilionFace it.

Whether you like it or not, there are things in your life (situations, circumstances, people, etc.) that you cannot change.  I know.  That is not what you want to hear but, take it from me—a woman who has hit her head on that idiomatic wall a few too many times—it’s true.

You cannot sanely or successfully control every aspect of your life.  And if you strongly disagree with me right about now, I challenge you to take an honest look at your life.  Look at your health, your relationships, lifestyle, and finances and I will guarantee you will see stress fractures in at least one area.

There comes a time when you have to LET IT GO.

But that’s no easy job, is it?

Even at the end of life it is hard to let go.  The new hospice patients I meet can’t always face their pending death.

Although I visit with individuals who are at ease and accept that they are dying, many of my patients are still in disbelief.  They are often angry ( at God, their doctors, life) and are grieving that life is ending sooner than they had hoped.

When this is the case I try my best to help each individual process this loss and transition into a place of peace and acceptance. I have seen people rest in sweet serenity with their new sense of freedom in welcoming their own approaching death.  They have accepted what they cannot not change.

So I’ll say it again and make it your Spiritual Prescription for today.

    Let.. it… go. 

Let go of the desire to control every aspect of your life (and everyone else’s life).  Let go of  the need to always be right.  Let go of the obsession that is  bringing you down more than building you up.

Learn to surrender these desires, needs and obsessions over to God.  Seek out the peace that will lead you to accepting that which you cannot change.

Life is too short to be stubborn. 

Accept what you truly cannot change and find the freedom therein.



Living Forever–Life: Not to be squandered, Part II

hour glassClearly my friend, Rebecca, and her death are still on my mind and will be for a long time.

Over the last few weeks I have heard people in my hospice care and individuals on t.v. express their desire to live forever. My common response is that since I seem to make the same mistakes over and over, living forever sounds like a nightmare more than a dream!

And let’s not forget the environmental impact of immortality (should everyone live forever), the continued witnessing of wars and natural disasters, or the constant experience of loss (should only a few select individuals be granted immortality).

I imagine for some the longing to live forever grows out of their fear of death.  If you do not have a belief in any after-life or reincarnation as Rebecca did, the finality of death is daunting.

For others, perhaps the drive to do things—travel the world with a loved one, have fourth, fifth, sixth careers, or have the time to be “successful”—is what brings on the idea that never dying could make these things possible.

There is something about living forever, however, that makes me wonder how productive one would actually be.

As it is, with our limited life spans, how many take advantage of every opportunity that comes their way? I will need to pay more attention, but I do not recall hearing this desire for immortality come out of the mouths of too many young persons.

Do we suddenly wish life would never end when we reach middle age and face the stark realization that “it’s all down hill from here?”  Do we panic when struck with the horrific fact that time is running out and we have so much that we still want to do?  Youth (and life) is wasted on the young, right?  When we are in our teens and twenties it is hard to imagine that life is limited.  We delay taking those adventures.  We down play  the importance of healthy relationships.  We figure next year is the time to seek out that career or passion we long to do.

What so many of us fail to do is to live in the moment.  To live each day seeking joy, peace and reconciliation. To discover what gifts God has blessed us with to better this world. To set our sights on tomorrow making those dreams a reality. And to go to bed without regrets.

I believe that when we are able to live in the moment, life itself is fulfilling and beautiful.

Death is no longer daunting.

It is simply a natural part of the fullness of life, the circle coming complete.



Life: Not to be squandered

flower & skyI was honored to witness the peaceful death of a friend a few weeks ago who courageously and beautifully danced with metastatic breast cancer for 10 years.

Just a little over a day into her 43rd year, she took her last breath.  Her husband, children, spiritual midwife and I were by her side while countless friends and family held her in thought and prayer.

And if there is anything I’ve learned from Rebecca, it’s that life is so very precious and we must live everyday to the fullest and with great joy.

And yet how many of us would say, “Oh yes…Yes, life is truly a gift” and continue on with business as usual?

Are we really living each day as if it were our last? Are you? Am I? 

My own father died suddenly of a ruptured aortic aneurysm. He had been working out at the gym and, according to witnesses, appeared to be trying to get off of the elliptical machine when he dropped to the ground dead. If he was able to realize at that moment that he was dying, did he feel ready?

Or in those last milliseconds, was there something he wished he’d said or done in his life? Were there relationships he’d wished had been mended or were there things left unaccomplished? I have often wondered about his soul. Was there time for his body and spirit to realize they were being separated?

Sometimes the more work I do as a hospice chaplain, the less I feel I know about death and what comes next.

What I AM learning, however, is that NO ONE has time to squander life.

Today is the day we must make things right. Today is the day we start making plans for that vacation we’ve always wanted. This very moment is when we begin working towards forgiveness, seeking it out and offering it up.

This day and every day we need to tell those we love exactly how much we care. It can’t be assumed.  We need to thank them for what they have done for us.

We must discover what brings us joy, what feeds our soul, what brings us peace.

And let me tell you, this ain’t gonna happen sitting numb in front of a screen, be that your Smart Phone, iPad, television, or computer.

We discover ourselves instead in intimate, heartfelt conversations with others, in analyzing our dreams, in studying sacred scriptures, in exploring nature and observing her rhythms.  We learn about ourselves when we take the risk to try new things. Okay, so maybe skinny dipping or ballroom dancing or staring at a mandala wasn’t for you.  But at least you tried.

Every day I strive to teach my children and to practice in my own life ways to celebrate each and every moment we have.  To let go of anger, stress and hopelessness and to live into joy, serenity and acceptance.

Thank you, Rebecca, for showing so many how to live and celebrate life! Love, love…

As nearly every elderly patient has told me, life is so very short.  Please don’t take it for granted.

Truly, today is all that you have.

Make the most of it!