Aging Grace-Fully – Overview of 4 sessions

 A New Vision for Aging

by David Tillman – December 19, 2011
Class: Ministry with Older Adults – United Theological Seminary, MN

     For my final paper I have developed a curricular piece, for a congregation’s adult education, entitled “Aging Grace-Fully – A New Vision for Aging.” This course, to discuss aging, is designed for older and middle age adults; which is taught over four, one-hour sessions.

     The course would be advertised in the churches monthly newsletter, weekly email blast, Sunday worship service announcements and Sunday’s Adult Education. Also a poster on an easel in the narthex and flyers personally given to interested members.

     The written or spoken announcement would be as follows: Please join us for Adult Education, all four Sundays in February, for “Aging Grace-Fully – A New Vision for Aging.” Session 1) How do we age? Session 2) Where is God’s transformation as we age? Session 3) How do we live fully as we age? Session 4) What are some practical tools to know as we age? Each session will include a topic introduction plus a small group activity and discussion. To quote Joan Chittister, “It is time for us to let go of both our fantasies of eternal youth and our fears of getting older, and to find the beauty of what it means to age well.” [i]

     The structure of each of four sessions include, 1) topic introduction, 2) scripture reading, 3) related quotation, 4) handout with small group activity and discussion questions, 5) small group activity; brief life review, movie clip or case study, 6) small group discussion around questions 7) larger group discussion, which starts with a brief recap from one member (and note taker) from each smaller groups discussion, 8) conclusion, 9) course evaluation by participants and 10) review of course evaluations by facilitator and adult education committee.

      Here is a detailed outline of material covered and accompanying activities for each of the four sessions of:  “Aging Grace-Fully” – A New Vision of Aging.”

Session one “Aging Grace-Fully” thesis: Acknowledging that time has changed who we are, how we are and how others see us, it is a process we all go through in our lives.  Scripture:

“Grey hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life” (Proverbs 16:21). Quote: “It is not change that will destroy us. It is the attitude we take to it that will make all the difference. The frame of mind we bring to it gives meaning to the end of one phase of life, of course. But more than that, it also determines the spiritual depth with which we start this new phase.” Joan Chittister [ii] Introduction: What if we look at aging as a Pilgrimage.[iii] “The life path is not only spiritual but at least to some degree, an intentional path to a destination variously conceived of as a holy place, a promised land, a liberation, enlightenment……wholeness, or eternal life.”[iv] “We spend many years building a ‘self’….. we are trying to ‘become’ someone, and deep down inside we might wonder if we are really anything at all.”[v] “As Jung calls a persona—a face that we present to the world”….. (based on work by Thomas Merton, Richard) “Rohr call this the ‘false self’ and sees it as an obstacle to authenticity, love and spiritual wholeness. It contrasts with the ‘true self,’ which is genuinely humble, loving, and in right relationship with the Divine, with others, and with the world in which one lives.”[vi]

     In the book Age-ing to Sage-ing, by Schachter-Shalomi and Miller, we read about the cycles of Aging, in 7 year cycles: ages 1-7) infancy & early childhood, 8-14) puberty; the awakening of sexuality and adolescence, 22-28) first adulthood, 29-35) building adult personality, 36-42) career and family, 43-49) we have arrived; established social identity, 50-56) Carl Jung says the morning of life is over and the evening has begun, should start spending more times contacting their inner selves, 57–70) William Irwin Thompson, in Passages About the Earth, said these are “periods in which our mind, body and heart are unified.”[vii] Coming into a “fullness of our power”…..a deeper humanity emerges…..we are concerned with the custodianship of the institutions themselves.”[viii] 71 +) “time for harvesting….reflecting on our achievement, feeling pride in our contributions to family and society, and ultimately finding our place in the cosmos.”[ix]

     Let us look at a “Life Review:” “James Hillman has said “Life review yields long-term gains that enrich character by bringing understanding to events.”[x] Life review is more than a spiritual autobiography, and is best to be done “in a group setting, where stories are told in candor and honestly, the whole story is more apt to be told.”[xi] Also it is helpful to include the faith dimension concerning “where God fits into one’s story.”[xii] For older adults life review can help give them “larger meaning for the story of their lives and to bestow under others the wisdom they have accrued as their legacy.”[xiii] For those in middle age or younger it “is a valuable tool for discerning God’s will for the years remaining.”[xiv]

     Life review exercise: tell the group: “we are now going to take 10 minutes to start our own life review, then discuss in your small group for 10 minutes any insights you have gained. We will then continue our discussion in the larger group for 10 minutes. I will pass out to each person a Life Review worksheet to use. On the worksheet is a listing of the “cycles of life” we discussed earlier with blank lines behind each one for you to write what was going on with you at that time in your life. This would include the bigger things in your life you remember about at that time. Also please fill in for those ages older than you with what your thoughts or dreams might be about those times in your life. I have also included a recap of the “Five Stages of the Soul” that might be helpful. Take 10 minutes, on your own, completing your life review worksheet. If you have any questions please raise your hand and I will come over and we can talk. I have also added two questions on the worksheet to help start your small group discussion. In the book The Five Stages of the Soul, by Moody and Carroll, 1997. The five stages are 1) The call: change of heart, conversion, etc., 2) The search: quest for guidance, 3) The struggle: involves disillusionment, despair, regret and impatience, 4) The breakthrough: occurs with a burst of vision, a new beginning and experience of joy, and 5) The return: means that life goes on as before with a difference that makes the ordinary unique.[xv] Two questions on the life review worksheet: 1) Did you find this life review exercise easy or difficult to do? if difficult why? 2) What insights did you have while doing this? (Note – discuss in small group, then larger group.)

Conclusion: In conclusion, I hope our time taking about Aging Grace-Fully, the life review exercise and our discussion has been valuable to you. I am passing out course evaluations that will give us feedback to learn if this course was helpful to you and your thoughts on what might be changed to improve this course. Please complete the evaluations now and place them in this box when you leave. I would ask that you take the time now to complete these and put them in this box as you leave. I encourage you to continue updating your life review throughout the years. To quote Joan Chittister; “Time ages things—and not simply ourselves. It ages our memories and allows us the relief of ignoring them. It ages our relationships and gives us the comfort of surety.”[xvi]

     Session two “Aging Grace-Fully” thesis: Acknowledging God’s transformation through how we show up in our world, which includes acceptance, letting go, inner peace, forgiveness, connecting and trusting. Scripture: “but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power* is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Cor 12:9). Quote: “Grace in Christian theology refers to the unconditional, comprehensive, empowering love of God for the world. God’s grace empowers human beings to live graciously, in faith and gratitude to God and in Spirit of forgiveness and peace with others.”[xvii] Introduction: “The Hebrew bible contains at least 250 references to old age.”[xviii] “Age is generally considered a blessing, or favor of God; certainly not something to resent, deny, or dread.”[xix] In the bible “wisdom is often attributed to the elderly… is not automatic or assumed with the passing of the years. It is earned through righteous living and faithful obedience.”[xx] “Some of the principle affirmations concern of the inherent worth, role and care of the elderly – especially the infirm” are: [xxi] The first principle: the pronouncement of the first breath on man and woman: “And the Lord God formed man (and woman) of dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man (and woman) became a living being.” (Gen, 2:7). “Being created in the “image of God” includes the human capacity for reason, self-transcendence, freedom of choice (will), moral responsibility, and creative constructive purpose: in short, an aspect of spirit.”[xxii] The second principle, “that human beings have physical substance, a body, formed from the dust of the earth, as well as mind and spirit.”[xxiii] “As in the case of Alzheimer’s, “a person becomes more dependent on God’s will and not one’s own.”[xxiv] One could look at this as we are created out of God’s image and within our relationship with God, on whatever level that may be, God’s spirit continues to work within a person, for example within a person with Alzheimer’s which is circumventing the normal channels of reception and expression the person previously had.[xxv] “A third principle is that of community.”[xxvi] We are created for interaction and interrelationship with one another.”[xxvii] “Finally, the principle that weaves from humanity’s common divine thread is: all people are created in the image of God.”[xxviii] We are responsible, as Jesus told us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk 12:31 NIV). Jesus showed us his love and grace toward other’s, as we read Jesus healing the blind woman, healing the leper and many other parables we read in the gospel texts.

Movie Clip Exercise: I am going to show a short movie clip from the “The Bucket List”. HO many of you have seen this film? The movie sleeve reads: “You only live once, so why not go out in style? That’s what two cancer-ward roommates; an irascible billionaire (Jack Nicholson) and a scholarly mechanic (Morgan Freeman) decide when they get the bad news. They compose a bucket list — things to do before you kick the bucket — and head off for the around-the-world adventure of their lives.”[xxix] (Note, show clip of the two of them sitting on a pyramid in Egypt and Morgan Freedom talking about Egyptian’s belief to enter heaven you are asked 1) if you had joy in your life and 2) if you brought joy to others.)

     Movie Clip Small Group Questions (passed out to each person): 1) What does it mean to have joy in our lives? 2) What does it mean to bring joy to others in our lives? 3) How does God’s love and grace bring us joy in our lives?

     Then instruct each person to take 5 minutes to answer the questions, then for the small groups to discuss their answers for 10 minutes, with one person taking notes. After that back in the larger group, one person from each group shares briefly their group’s responses. When all groups have shared the discussion continues with the larger group.

     Conclusion: I hope our time talking about Aging Grace-Fully, watching a clip from “The Bucket List,” the movie worksheet and our discussion has been valuable to you. I am passing out course evaluations …etc. as before.

     Session three “Aging Grace-Fully” Thesis: Integrating mind, body, emotions and spirit to finish our lives well, as this is what God has intended for us. Scripture: “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4 – NIV) Quote: “Age is the antidote to personal destruction, the call to spiritual growth, because age finally brings us to the point where there is nowhere else to go but inside for comfort, inside for wealth, inside for the things that really count. It is the damping-down time of life. Our passions and flaw—ager, jealousy, envy, pride—subside to the point that we begin to awaken to another whole level of life. The interior life, the search for the sacred, takes over to the point that we can begin to assess how much energy that passions and flaws have drained from our life.”[xxx]

Movie Clip Study: Show 30 minutes of the movie “Grow Old Along with Me: The Poetry of Aging” collection of poems and wisdom from life spoken by a number of older actors and actresses.[xxxi] Film worksheet, passed out before the movie[xxxii]  Worksheet questions: 1) What theological themes emerged in the course of the film? 2) In the film what insights caught your attention?  After the movie take 3 minutes to complete your answers to the film worksheet, then discuss for 10 minutes in your small group your answers, and then we will come back into the larger group to share answers and insights for another 5 minutes.

     Conclusion: I hope our time talking about Aging Grace-Fully, watching a portion of “Grow Old Along with Me”, the film worksheet and our discussion has been valuable to you. I am passing out course evaluations….etc. as before.

     Session four Aging Grace-Fully Planning Toolkit thesis: As we age it is important to understand health care issues, living options, financial and legal issues, and how we talk to others, as this can enhance our process of aging grace-fully and for those we love. Scripture: “We plan the way we want to live, but only God makes us able to live it.” (Proverbs 16:9). Quotation: “All the rest of life has been for the sake of coming to this time in it. Everything else has been pure practice for this time, simply gestures of what it is to live fully.”[xxxiii]

     I would like to talk about some practice things and considerations as our parent’s age and as we age, then do a case study in small groups to talk about some of the issues we or others we know may face in our lives. When is the right time to speak to your family about the issues of aging? This can be a challenge for older adults who have been very independent. 

There are some practical items to be aware of that can make it easier for parents and their families during the aging process. Do you, your parents or children have a will? “A will: a legal document written to have control over what happens to one’s property and assets when one dies. A will generally does not involve health care decisions. A Power of Attorney:A legal document in which one person gives another the authority to make specific financial decisions. Unless specifically written to do so, a Power of Attorney document will not cover health care.” [xxxiv]

    Regarding one’s health care, “A Health Care Directiveis a tool which allows you to: appoint another person (called an agent) to make health care decisions for you if you become unable to make or communicate decisions for yourself (Part I), or leave written instructions so that others can make decisions based on your wishes and preferences (Part II), or do both—appoint a health care agent and leave instructions.”[xxxv] These also can be called a “living will” and “durable power of attorney for health care.” A “Health care agent: (is)one or more persons legally authorized to make health care decisions for another who is not able to communicate.”[xxxvi]

     Let’s talk about living arrangements for older adults. My understanding is Medicare pays nothing for long term care. If a person runs out of money, there is government assistance that will pay for a nursing home if needed. Living in one’s home, apartment, or senior home is an option only if one is able to take care of themselves or they are living with a caregiver. As one’s health slips a person may need to be cared for in an assisted living or nursing home. At the end of life, hospice care is available, usually if death is imminent.

     As one ages it is helpful to talk to your children and family to discuss what your wishes are for living arrangements, sooner than later. If possible, talk about end of life issues with your parents that include completing the health care directive, power of Attorney for health care, funeral arrangements and liturgy, burial plans and overall wishes for their family when they die.

Case Study: This case will give us the opportunity to talk about end of life issues which one family was faced to deal with after their parents were in a car accident. Pass out the case study, explain to group to have one person in group read the case study and one person to take notes while the group answers the questions and then report back a summary to the larger group when we reconvene in 20 minutes from now. When we reconvene have each group spokesperson recap their questions and open up the discussion to the larger group.  

     Case study worksheet: John (age 72) and Maria (age 73) have been married for forty-five years. They both worked and retired at age sixty-five. They raised three children, Mike, Cheryl and Dan, and have six grandchildren. Mike, the oldest child, and Dan, along with their families, live in the same city as their parents. Cheryl and her family lives 1,000 miles away. Due to an argument five years ago, Mike has not talked to his parents, Cheryl or Dan for over five years.

     Six months ago John and Maria were driving, on an icy winter day, and were hit by a truck that ran a red light. John was killed immediately and Maria was in critical condition with a severe head injury in the intensive care unit at the local hospital. Maria’s condition was getting worse and a decision was going to need to be made soon about continuing life support through a ventilator which who keep her alive, however, due to the head injury it was determined that she had lost most of her brain functioning. Three years ago, Maria had told Cheryl and Dan that if something like this every happened to her she would want to be allowed to die than to be kept alive with a life support system. Unfortunately John and Maria had never written a will, health care directive or power of attorney for health care, stating their wishes in writing.

     At the hospital Mike, Cheryl and Dan met with the doctor to discuss what to do. Cheryl and Dan told Mike about what their mother had each told them about not putting her on a life support system. This was the first time Mike he had heard anything about this. Mike’s faith tradition believed that they should do anything possible to keep his mother alive. Cheryl and Dan argued that they would like to honor their mother’s wishes. A decision was made that day to keep Maria on a life support system as Mike would not agree to take her off the system. Cheryl and Dan had felt that all three of them needed to agree before they would allow the life support system to be removed from their mother.

     Two months later, Maria died at the hospital, with a medical cost of $850,000. The family had a funeral, yet tensions were high amongst the Mike, Cheryl and Dan. These two months had put a lot of strain on the whole family. Without a will Mike, Cheryl and Dan began to argue about their parent’s estate. Cheryl and Dan felt that since Mike had distanced himself from his parents that he should not get his equal share. Cheryl and Dan also felt frustrated that had they followed their mother’s wishes to discontinue life support, the bills for the extended hospital stay would have saved the estate $100,000. With no will it took one year to settle the estate and $120,000 of legal costs for all three children.

     Case Study Questions (on worksheet): 1) What are main the issues among Mike, Cheryl and Dan regarding their mother’s condition? 2) Looking back at this, what do you think Cheryl and Dan could have suggested when their mother told them about their end of life wishes regarding the use of a life support system? This is followed by case study discussion in larger group.

     Conclusion: I hope our time talking about Aging Grace-Fully with some practical knowledge has been valuable to you. Pass out course evaluations as before. After each session, the Adult Education Committee will review the evaluations and make course updates as needed.

     For those who attend the “Aging Grace-Fully – A New Vision of Aging” course it will bring to them a renewed awareness and understanding to help in their own aging process and also how they can love and support their parents, family members and friends as they Age Grace-Fully.

[i] Joan Chittister, The Gift of Years, (Katonah, NY: BlueBridge Books, 2008), xi.[ii] Joan Chittister, The Gift of Years, 46.[iii] Melvin A. Kimble and Susan H. McFadden, ed., Aging, Spirituality, and Religion:  A Handbook – Volume 2, 239.
[iv] Ibid., 7.
[v] Ibid., 7.
[vi] Ibid., 7.
[vii] Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Ronald S. Miller, Age-ing to Sage-ing, (New York: Warner Books, 1995), 22-23.
[viii] Ibid., 23.
[ix] Ibid., 23.
[x] Melvin A. Kimble and Susan H. McFadden, ed., Aging, Spirituality, and Religion:  A Handbook – Volume 2, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 157.
[xi] Ibid., 157.
[xii] Ibid., 158.
[xiii] Ibid., 158.
[xiv] Ibid., 158.
[xv] Ibid., 161.
[xvi] Joan Chittister, The Gift of Years, 46.
[xvii] Melvin A. Kimble and Susan H. McFadden, ed., Aging, Spirituality, and Religion:  A Handbook – Volume 2, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 239.
[xviii] Rev. Derrel Watkins, Ed., Practical Theology for Aging, (Binghamton, NY: The Haworth Pastoral Press, 2003), 69.
[xix] Ibid., 70.
[xx] Ibid., 70.
[xxi] Ibid., 70.
[xxii] Ibid., 70.
[xxiii] Ibid,. 70.
[xxiv] Ibid., 71.
[xxv] Ibid., 71.
[xxvi] Ibid., 71.
[xxvii] Ibid., 71.
[xxviii] Ibid., 72.
[xxix] The Bucket List, dir. Rob Reiner, director, LA: Warner Brothers, 2007, DVD video recording.
[xxx] Joan Chittister, The Gift of Years, 69.
[xxxi] Grow Old Along With Me – The Poetry of Aging. Dir. Anne Macksound and John Ankele, Lanhan, MD: National Film Network, 2000, c1999, DVD video recording.
[xxxii] Robert Albers, The Bucket List Movie Questions, (New Brighton, MN, United Theological Seminary, Ministry with Older Adults class, November 3, 2011).
[xxxiii] Joan Chittister, The Gift of Years, 202.
[xxxiv] Minnesota Board on Aging, University of MN Extension Service, (accessed December 16, 2011).
[xxxv] Minnesota Board on Aging, University of MN Extension Service, (accessed December 16, 2011).
[xxxvi] Minnesota Board on Aging, University of MN Extension Service, (accessed December 16, 2011).

© David Tillman, July 2011, all rights reserved.

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