Growing old, even when that means facing physical or other changes, can help us focus on what is essential. As we age, our perspective on what has meaning is refined. When we slow down, whether because of physical changes or by choice, we often become more contemplative. We may want to share memories and stories, to forgive or be forgiven, to express gratitude, to focus on our most essential values. Older adulthood offers the opportunity to model peace.
For some whose cognitive abilities have changed, and who may no longer be able to access many of their memories, being “in the moment” can be a gift. We can learn from their presence; one might more readily notice the sparkle of a creek or a new birdcall. Some believe that people are able to exist in a different realm of consciousness when their abilities are stripped down.
“As I grow older, I seem to need more time for inner stillness…This can happen in the midst of daily chores or when walking in a crowd or riding in a train. It means being still, open, reflective, holding within myself the crucible of joy and pain of all the world, and lifting it up to God. Praise comes into it, and thankfulness for all the love I have known and shared, the realization of how much of the time I am carried, supported, upheld by others and the love of God. (During this process) comes the deep sense of unity of all being, the intermeshing of the animate and inanimate, the secular and the scared, the tangible and the intangible…it means just waiting, or just lifting the heart.”
Dorothy Steere, 1995, PYM Faith and Practice, 2002
Not all of us are easily able to find tranquility in the changes that come with later life. We may have to work at acceptance, or we may feel more compelled to “rage, rage against the dying of the night,” in the words of Dylan Thomas. Our peace may come through continued activism, through some new activity, rather than living in a more contemplative state of being.
Whatever it is that nurtures our spirit, if we can at least become comfortable with the natural process of aging, and with our inherent interdependence with one another and the earth, we will free ourselves to make the most of our later years.
Ideas for Spiritual Communities:
Recognize that some people may want to participate in the spiritual community in new or different ways, as they grow older or face any of life’s changes. Worship groups can provide a space for quiet, inner peace, and also opportunities for discernment about how one can make the most of one’s life. Don’t make assumptions, be inclusive and consider what supports may be needed
Clearness Committees when one is facing serious illness or loss can help a person navigate through the choppier waters of change and find peace and acceptance.
Provide opportunities for sharing stories.
Simply practicing Ira Byock’s Four Things that Matter Most — I’m sorry, I love you, I forgive you, and thank you, can go a long way toward achieving inner peace in our later years. Say thank you, I love you, I forgive you, and I’m sorry. Doing this one’s self may make it easier for someone else to be comfortable doing the same.
Offer the opportunity for meeting for worship, worship sharing, or clearness in someone’s home when they cannot get to meeting.
“Then my cane and I stepped out the front door into brilliant sunshine, and all was changed…sugar spun candy, a white ewe with a brand new black lamb…a calliope…All the wheelchairs were there, and in them people smiling…A time of pure play.”
Mary C. Morrison, Gift of Days, Pendle Hill Pamphlet 364
PREPARING FOR DEATH RELIGIOUS SOCIETY OF FRIENDS (QUAKERS)
by NORTHERN YEARLY MEETING
All meetings and worship groups are encouraged to:
o regularly discuss decision- making about death and disability;
o encourage individual members to give prayer and thought to these issues;
o provide informed advice and counsel to Friends and attenders;
o consider providing and keeping on file, forms that record individual information and wishes. -
Information on: 1) hospice care, 2) funeral homes, 3) memorial societies that assist in simple less expensive funerals and burials, and 4) legal requirements at the time of death.
This can be a great gift and prevent mistakes.
Emotional Support: The meeting can pray for those involved and provide emotional support by being present when needed and by helping with other care. Friends are encouraged to show sympathy to those grieving with phone calls, cards, and visits, being careful that their actions are not burdensome or intrusive. Need for support may be long term, since grief may be a cyclical process and re-emerge months after the death of a loved one – particularly at times when the loss may be felt more keenly such as at holidays and the first anniversary of the death.
Coordination of Care: Meetings can coordinate care for a member who is dying by arranging for meals and child care if needed. Personal care services, and other practical aid both before and after death, both to the dying person and to family members, may be helpful. The meeting or a committee can coordinate phone calls, help with the funeral and memorial service arrangements, help write and arrange for publication of the obituary in consultation with the family, and notify insurance companies.
A Memorial Meeting for Worship: Monthly meetings, in consultation with family and/or caregivers, may plan to celebrate the life of a departed Friend in a loving manner. This may take the form of a called Meeting for Worship. During this worship Friends recognize the universal experience of death and give emotional support to the loved ones. That called Meeting for Worship can be either programmed or unprogrammed. The clerk of the meeting or a designee explains the format for the service, especially for those present who might not be familiar with Quaker worship. If the memorial service is programmed, designated individuals may give tributes to the departed person. The worship may include reading favorite Bible passages, Quaker writings, or poetry, singing favorite songs, or playing favorite music of the individual, the individual’s loved ones or family. The family often participates. Open grieving is appropriate in this worship.
Memorial Minutes: Monthly Meetings may prepare a Memorial Minute. Information the departed person may have provided would be helpful in preparing this minute.
A Clearness Committee: At times a clearness committee for a dying person may be appropriate to meet with the person, provide spiritual support, discuss issues of reconciliation and forgiveness if such issues exist, and give the dying person an opportunity to share concerns about the dying process. This clearness committee might also assist in a called Memorial Meeting for Worship should one be requested by the dying person. This could provide a joyful opportunity to celebrate a life.
PERSONAL AND FAMILY RESPONSIBILITIES
Friends have individual responsibilities for themselves and for each other in decisions surrounding death. Friends’ testimony on simplicity should be considered in making decisions about death. Each person is urged to give thoughtful consideration to the following:
A Legal Will: A legal will provides for distribution of belongings and one’s estate. This is sound stewardship, helps prevent dispute among family members, and may give comfort to those surviving. Friends could consider the opportunity to make significant gifts to Quaker and other charitable organizations. Current tax laws regarding estate taxes, trusts, and gifts of appreciated stock when taken into account may be beneficial to both the donor, the heirs, and recipient organizations. This also provides parents the opportunity to designate guardians for their dependent children.
A Living Will: A living will, a medical directive, a durable power of attorney for health care, and similar documents can provide guidance for others about the individual’s wishes. These may be separate documents or one document may suffice for all of them. The form and requirements vary from state to state. Medical clinics, hospitals, and doctors offices have the forms and information. Before becoming unable to participate in decision making, individuals may consider sharing their desires for care with family, friends and physician(s). This is different from a legal will for disposition of property.
Disability and Long Term Care: Although life expectancy has increased, the aging process can be accompanied by decreased physical and /or mental ability. Often these conditions create situations where neither family nor friends can completely meet the needs that are present. With an aging population, more people are in nursing homes. Thus individuals may want to consider arrangements for long term care if disability occurs. Keeping apprised of alternative care options may include investing in personal long term care insurance and investigating assisted living options or nursing home care. Friends can assist others in making these life decisions.
o Organ Donation: Instructions can be made for donations of organs or the body. Many states have provisions on driver’s licenses for organ donations which may give new hope for life to others. The nearest medical school has forms for body donations for medical education.
o Body Disposition: Unless donated to a medical school, wishes for disposition of the body by burial or cremation may be a helpful guide to survivors, even though these wishes may not be legally binding. Options for simple, inexpensive burials are available.
- Memorial Meeting: Stating elements to include in a Memorial Meeting for Worship such as favorite Scripture passages, songs, poems or other readings is helpful to those planning this event.
- Obituary and other information: Writing an obituary is another helpful act for loved ones left behind. These notes may be given to the newspaper and used in the Memorial Worship or in a Memorial Minute. Other useful information for families would be a list of persons and organizations to be notified in the event of death. Some of this information should be shared with loved ones, other important persons, appropriate meeting members, the executor of your estate and others. The information should be readily available — not just placed in a safety deposit box where it may not be accessible upon death.
For individuals: What thought have you given towards preparation for your death? How have you expressed your wishes should you die or become incapacitated? How have you informed your family, Meeting, and executor?
For meetings: How has your monthly meeting addressed issues of death and dying? In what way has your monthly meeting prepared to carry out its responsibilities in the event of a death in the meeting? What vehicle does your Monthly Meeting have for recording your wishes?
AGING IN THE LIGHT:
CHALLENGES AND REWARDS OF THE LATER YEARS
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE: “Sonnet 73”
LUCILLE CLIFTON: “There Is a Girl Inside”
STAN SEARL: “Hospitality at 100 Main Street”
JUDITH SEARLE: “In the Light”
EDWIN ARLINGTON ROBINSON: “Eros Turannos”
JANE KENYON: “Otherwise”
CZESLAW MILOSZ: “Late Ripeness”
DOROTHY PARKER: “Ninon De L’Enclos on Her Last Birthday”
BILLY COLLINS: “Forgetfulness”
ELIZABETH BISHOP: “One Art”
ROBERT FROST: “Provide, Provide”
PHYLLIS MCGINLEY: “Honest Confession”
STEVE KOWIT: “Notice”
MAXINE KUMIN: “Personals”
E.E. CUMMINGS: “if there are any heavens”
LOUISE BOGAN: “Song for the Last Act”
STANLEY KUNITZ: “Touch Me”
JUDITH VIORST: “Late Love”
EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY: “Gazing upon Him Now, Severe and Dead”
W.H. AUDEN: “Funeral Blues”
MARY AUSTEN: “Song of a Woman Abandoned by the Tribe”
ROBINSON JEFFERS: “Cremation”
GALWAY KINNELL: “Wait”
MARY OLIVER: “When Death Comes”
WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS: “Sailing to Byzantium”
EMILY DICKINSON: “Because I Could Not Stop for Death”
IN THE LIGHT
W.S. MERWIN: “Thanks”
GWENDOLYN BROOKS: “Infirm”
DEREK WALCOTT: “Love After Love”
MARIANNE MOORE: “What Are Years?”
National Institute on Aging
American Psychological Association
Mental Health America
New York Yearly Meeting
Aging Resources, Consultation, and Help (ARCH)
Quaker Aging Resources