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Posted: October 08, 2004

Spiritual Caregiving

Elder Wisdom: Celebrating a Life-Stage Our Culture Sometimes Writes Off

(Editor's Note: As caregivers, we see our elderly in a different light than when we ? and they ? were younger. But when we stop long enough to see the true person in front of us, we are sometimes surprised to see a wonderful, wise and even benevolent family patriarch or matriarch. In this week's column, Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, media editors for Spirituality & Health magazine, give us a glimpse of three books that pay homage to the elderly in all their glory.)


A Time to Live: Seven Steps of Creative Aging

By Robert Raines

(Plume 08/97 Paperback $12.95, ISBN 0-452-278058)

This is one of the best and the brightest books you'll ever read on the elder passage.

The author spent 20 years as director of Kirkridge Retreat and Study Center. Using the poetry of Emily Dickinson, Robert Bly, W. B. Yeats, Wendell Berry, Denise Levertov, and William Shakespeare, Raines sets the stage for his discussion of the seven steps of creative aging.

Through loss of soul, the deaths of others, illness, and the declining strength of our bodies, we wake up to our mortality. We embrace sorrow and learn from it. The elder season is also a time when we can savor blessedness, the abundance of gifts and joys in our lives. Work and love assume fresh meaning. We take great pride in our contribution to ?the great work of the universe.? And as elders, we have the time to nurture intimacy in all of our relationships.

The final few tasks of creative aging, according to Raines, are ?seeking forgiveness? and ?taking on the mystery.?

The author masterfully sets anecdotes from his own life alongside poignant illustrative material from contemporary novels, films, and political events. A Time to Live by Robert Raines is highly recommended for elders and anyone headed to become one.


A Heart of Wisdom

Susan Berrin , Editor

(Jewish Lights 11/97 Hardcover $24.95, ISBN 0-879045-73-7)

Edited and with introductions by Susan Berrin, this anthology has more than 40 contributors offering their insights on this stage of life.

In the foreword, Harold Kushner writes: ?Your life is like a book. If it is a good book, we enjoy every chapter, but we enjoy the last chapters most of all, because only then do we realize what the book was really about.?

Judaism holds elders in high esteem. They are wisdom-keepers, storytellers, and the carriers of tradition. In this fine resource, editor Berrin includes a section of writings on elders in the Torah, Psalms, Proverbs, Talmud, and Midrash.

She also showcases many thought provoking essays which advocate a positive view of aging. Letty Cottin Pogrebin reveals how middle-agers become mindful of every moment; Marc Kaminsky discusses elder and life review; and Berrin writes about growing old in an Israeli kibbutz.

One of the best essays is by Anne Tolbert in which she describes a personal ?seder? to celebrate aging. Rituals like these are the key to helping more people cherish the last stage of life.


Gray Heroes: Elder Tales from Around the World

Jane Yolen, Editor

(Penguin Books 06/99 Paperback $12.95, ISBN 0-14-027618-1)

?Once the storytellers were the ancients, who like great skin containers, held the wine of story for their communities. They doled it out, sip by sip: history, mystery, lineage, and law. They were both entertainment and enrichment. They carried wisdom in the mouth, adventure on the tongue.?

So writes folklorist Jane Yolen in this lively and fascinating collection of 75 tales from around the world about gray heroes. In our times, elders are changing our perceptions about aging, retirement, and dying. Yolen has done us all an immense service by bringing together a batch of stories from different cultures where elders ?wear their long years well.?

The tales are divided into four sections: wisdom, trickery, adventure, and a little bit of love. Here the reader will find accounts of long-lived individuals who fight dragons, rescue those in distress, act courageously, and restore hope in the hearts of others. These gray heroes model for us a new way of being.

This article originally appeared in Spirituality & Health magazine, For subscriptions call 1-800-876-8202 or see Editor Stephen Kiesling and his staff contribute weekly columns, features and articles published every Friday as "Spiritual Caregiving" at Contact staff directly via email at

© 2004 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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