July-August 2013

Spirit logo

A newsletter from the
California Lutheran Homes and Sunny View
Centers for Spirituality and Aging
Welcome to the long days of mid-summer.  As we recently celebrated our country's Independence Day on July 4th, I've found myself thinking about independence and its place in our lives as we age.  We not only began our country by declaring ourselves independent from Britain and the King, but independence and self-reliance became the highest virtues in our society and culture.  One of our highest values it seems is to be independent people who can "stand on our own two feet."

All of this valuing of independence leads to older adults who seek desperately to remain independent, while finding it harder and harder to take care of everything on their own.  Often a crisis occurs which leads to a sudden loss of independence.  I've been wondering how we can help older adults experience and practice inter-dependence.  I don't have lots of answers, given my own proclivity for not asking for help until almost too late.  But here are some questions I've been ruminating on: 
  • How we can create climates in communities and congregations where asking for help is normal and expected? 
  • How do we encourage the blessing of receiving as well as giving? 
  • How is it possible to be vulnerable and admit need and weakness, without feeling ashamed, embarrassed and ostracized?
To be communities of care for the aging, we're going to need to address and answer these questions!  I'd love to hear your ideas and comments.  Email me or post a response on our Facebook page--which we'd love you to like--or continue the conversation on Twitter.  And thank you for subscribing to our newsletter. 
2013-2014 Spiritual Care Workshops

Many times the problems we seek to address in programming such as helplessness, loneliness, and boredom are spiritual problems and yet we often don't think about spiritual resources or practices when creating programs for older adults.  This fall workshop was created by presenters Nancy Gordon, director and Don Koepke, director emeritus of the CLH Center for Spirituality and Aging, to assist all those who plan and create programs for older adults  in senior centers, residential communities, long-term care settings, and in congregations.  Nancy and Don believe that looking at programming through a spiritual lens will help all those who desire to create and provide programming for older adults that goes beyond entertainment and "keeping them busy."

Offered three times in November, use the links below to learn more and to be among the first to register!

The Rev. Dr. Jade Angelica
Rabbi Dayle Friedman


 A Communication, Connection & Care Experiential Workshop

Save the Dates:

February 19, 2014 in Anaheim

February 20, 2014 in Cupertino.

 Through presentation, experiential exercises, discussion, and reflection, Jade Angelica, founder of Healing Moments,  provides caregivers (family, lay and professional) with the opportunity to learn and practice creative, effective methods for communicating and connecting with and caring for persons with Alzheimer's and dementia.  Using techniques from improvisational theater this workshop is designed to creatively breathe life into the communication process in order to enhance quality of life and reduce caregiver stress.

Rev. Dr. Angelica's program, Healing Moments was awarded a "Best Practices" award by NICA (National Interfaith Council on Aging) in 2010.  She is a Unitarian Universalist minister, provides long distance spiritual direction to those with Alzheimer's and their caregivers, and has a book in publication about her journey caring for her mother who suffered from Alzheimer's.

Save the Dates:

April 9, 2014 in Anaheim

April 10, 2014 in Cupertino.

Rabbi Dayle Friedman brings a look at life review and its importance and necessity in the spiritual journey of aging.  Using the tool of Midrashic inquiry she will teach us techniques to to help us deepen our understanding of  our current life story and techniques and questions that we can use as we provide spiritual care for older adults.  The second half of the day will be spent exploring how caregivers can nurture their own resiliency as they care for and support elders. 

Rabbi Friedman served as founding director of Hiddur: The Center for Aging and Judaism of Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, has many years of experience as chaplain and trainer of chaplains for older adults, and is author of many articles and two books.  You can learn more about her and her programs at her web site, Growing Older.
Resources for the Aging Journey
Life Gets Better:  The Unexpected Pleasures of Growing Older by Wendy Lustbader (New York, NY:  Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2011).

lifegetsbetter In the stories woven through this book Wendy Lustbader illustrates how life gets better as we age.  The book's  three sections,  "Hope," "Transformation" and "Peace" provide a framework for the telling. Beginning with "Self-Knowledge" as the first chapter and ending with "What Matters Most," she consistently points to ways that the last decades of life can be the most free and pleasurable.  She  reminds us that there are opportunities to build on the knowledge gained about ourselves and others over the course of a lifetime making it possible to live as our truest self. 

Lustbader does not view the last decades of life as entirely rosy.  She knows that they contain many losses--of people important to us, of relationships, of things, of physical energy and mobility.  Yet through the stories of her own life and the elders she has worked with in her years as a social worker/therapist, she illustrates how these challenges and losses can be transformed in ways that enrich our ongoing living.  I was particularly struck by her words about loss and grief:
We must open ourselves to sorrow, allow it to move through us, and await all that will grow out of it.  The deeper the loss the longer it takes to recognize how much of life still awaits us.  Rather than trying to evade its intensity, we have to allow loss to animate our days. 

Read this book for the wisdom it contains and the challenges it presents to help us to think deeply and creatively about how we want to live and be in our last decades.  And read it so that you can share her encouragement and wisdom with the elders you serve.  And if you haven't read her previous works, Counting on Kindness:  The Dilemmas of Dependency or What's Worth Knowing, add them to your reading list as well!
Caresharing: A Reciprocal Approach to Caregiving and Care Receiving in the Complexities of Aging, Illness or Disability by Marty Richards (Woodstock, VT:  Skylight Paths Publishing, 2009). 

caresharing In this book, Marty Richards offers a new vision for care givers and receivers of care--a vision based on the belief that all parties in this relationship have strengths, abilities and gifts to offer. It's also a vision where keeping the spirit alive is as important as focusing on physical and mental health.  She envisions the caresharing relationship as a dance "with multiple partners where each person is giving and receiving."  In this dance the primary caregiver, the primary care receiver, and other family, friends, and paid caregivers can all contribute and can all feel needed. 

She invites care givers to see themselves as "learners" and to look for the wisdom that their care receivers can teach them.  She tackles issues of family rules and roles and how they can help and impede mutual caregiving.  She encourages the naming and sharing of feelings by all parties in the caresharing dance, and encourages caregivers to look for ways to connect "soul to soul" when caring for persons with severe cognitive impairments such as dementia or Alzheimer's disease.  She provides guidance through the many griefs that occur in aging and caregiving and care receiving.  And her chapters on forgiveness and hope are outstanding.  The spiritual aspects of caresharing are addressed throughout the book and there are questions for caregivers and care receivers to reflect on and share together sprinkled throughout the chapters. 

This book provides an inspiring vision that does not downplay the difficulties of the caresharing experience, but brims with empowering approaches that build spirit and heart for all participants in the caresharing dance.
The Center in the News
stones "Top Ten Spiritual Practices for Older Adults," an article I wrote is featured on the FORSA (Forum on Religion, Spirituality and Aging) page of the American Society on Aging website.  You can check it out here.  This article is also featured in edition #19 of "Fierce with Age:  A Digest of Boomer Wisdom, Inspiration and Spirituality" edited by Carole Orsborn.  This is an ongoing website/newsletter that you can find here.  

If you are a member of American Society on Aging, you can see and listen to a webinar I gave on "Blessing What Is:  Celtic Spirituality as a Framework for the Spiritual Journey of Aging" here. (Log-in to get to the page.)
Parting Thoughts
I have been seeing more and more articles on the early stages of a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias.  One example is this article in the New York Times, which generated many comments.  I also recently discovered a blog by a physician, Dr. David Hilfiker, who is blogging about his experiences since being diagnosed with Alzheimer's on his blog, "Watching the Lights Go Out."  

Alzheimer's brings into question what it means to be a person.  Part of the fear of the disease is that in our culture we've put our definition of personhood almost totally in the realm of cognitive ability and productivity.  There are other voices out there and I've been reading some of them where personhood and self are defined in deeper and richer (and more complicated) ways.  I am hopeful we can translate some of this into a "working" vocabulary so we can talk about the realities of the disease and at the same time lessen the fear of it.  Changes in attitude and practice happen as we share, person to person, our learnings and understandings.  So we have a lot of learning and conversing to do!

I'm also wondering what you're reading and thinking about during these waning days of summer.  It seems there is much afoot in the world of aging and spirituality. 

Many blessings on you and your work,

Nancy Gordon
California Lutheran Homes and Sunny View Centers for Spirituality and Aging


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Nancy Gordon, Director
CLH and Sunny View Centers for Spirituality and Aging
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