January Reading for Chalice Elders

At our monthly Elders Lunch (held on zoom the second Friday each month from 12 noon to 1 p.m.), Rev. Sharon shares a reading from the book In Later Years: Finding Meaning and Spirit in Aging by Bruce T. Marshall, a Unitarian Universalist minister. The following are excerpts shared at our January Elders Lunch. The theme of the first chapter is “loss.”

If there is such a thing as successful aging–and I’m not sure there is–it’s really dependent on how a person handles loss. (p.33)

Throughout most phases of life, loss has the potential to create possibilities. A chapter ends; a new one begins. A relationship ends; we become open to a new start with a different partner. A job ends, a project fails, our professional life seems to reach a dead end; we seek another realm of endeavor that may be better suited for who we are or for the tenor of the times. Even tragic losses—an untimely death, a disabling illness, whether our own or loved one’s—may reorient us, bring us to realize what we truly value and offer opportunities to act upon these realizations. The losses we experience help us become who we will be.

As we grow older, the losses escalate. There are still opportunities for change and renewal; I am inspired and humbled by those who react to the losses of aging with courage and creativity. But in our senior years there are more and deeper losses to navigate. We leave the world of work that has occupied us throughout adulthood. For much of our lives, we might have defined ourselves by what we did. Now that we’re retired, who are we? The children have grown up, and they have their own children and lives of their own that do not revolve around us. A spouse dies, as do friends who have been companions throughout life, and our circle of acquaintances shrinks. We might outlive one or more of our children, which shatters assumptions about the proper course of life through the generations.

Our circle of friends and acquaintances shrinks as they become less able to maintain relationships, as they become sick and die. “The hardest part for me,” Barbara P observed, “is that people die all the time. Yeah, that’s really tough. I have a bridge partner now who’s going to get an EKG today and I told her she can’t die. None of this; no dying. It’s not allowed!” She paused and said softly, “That’s the hardest part.” (pp. 17-18)