Spirituality is a very personal part of our lives, and sometimes talking about it can be uncomfortable or unsettling. But, it can also be a wonderful way to connect with our senior loved ones, support them and help them to embrace the wisdom one can only gain through the experience of aging.
It’s important, first, to recognize that spirituality and religion are not the same thing, even though they are connected. A good way to think about it is that not all spiritual people and practices are religious. Spirituality is generally accepted as a system of beliefs that relate to what connects us to other people, to the world around us and to the unknown. Spiritual questions examine the meaning of life, our existence, the universe and our relationships. Essentially, it is what encompasses all aspects of being human and it extends beyond the physical and material state. Some people examine their spirituality through a religion and some don’t.
In our culture, we spend a lot of time focused on youth and staying young. For our seniors, this can make it hard to hold onto their own sense of worth or to see the value in aging. Other cultures and traditions are better at valuing seniors for their wisdom and spiritual maturity. When you think about it, that makes a lot of sense because seniors have insight and perspectives that many of us have not had the time or experiences to develop.
Let’s look at a few reasons why:
Hindsight is 20/20
We all know that saying. It means that you see things a lot more clearly when you look back on them. For seniors, they can look back on decades of life experience and see what guided them through challenges or what helped them to make choices. Often times, there is a spiritual component or belief to it. What helped them can help us, either by giving us something to hold onto or by affirming or further defining what guides us.
Life’s Defining Work is Done
Many would argue that life’s work is never done—and we agree. In fact, we think that continuing life’s work is what improves the quality of it, and we suspect that many Alaskans feel the same way. However, by the time most people pass retirement age, they’ve done some really defining things:
- Had a career (or two)
- Raised a family
- Contributed to their communities
In the senior years, there is more time to think about these defining experiences and extract the answers or the nectar of life. These are things that can sustain us all.
One of Life’s Greatest Mysteries is Nearer
Death is a big question in the minds of humans and spirituality can play a huge role in how we face that question. Of course, none of us know when we are going to die, but if we’re lucky, we’ll live a long life before that happens. Our senior loved ones have been that lucky, but they feel the inevitability of death more than others.
Naturally, they are examining that question and their perspective is valuable, because not only can it help us to gain understanding and acceptance of death, but it can help us to better support them as they face it.
Next time you visit with your senior loved one, think about engaging in a conversation about spirituality with them. We all get caught up in the little details of life and stopping to think about the big picture can be refreshing. It can also help us to remember the value of the person sitting in front of us, or the value of the lessons we’ve learned in life. You can’t put a price on that.