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Posted: May 11, 2005

Professional Caregiving

The Meaning of Life

It was in 1997 that my cousin, Ruth Campbell, PhD,and her colleagues, Janet Fogler, MSW, and Lynn Stern, MSW, presented at the Gerontological Society of America conference. I had been invited to share the workshop with them, and I came away from it all the more inspired to work with the families and clients at our adult day center.

"Ultimately, life is a gift and meaning is its reward. So are the art and the ability of asking questions. The meaning of life is to be found in the question that we encounter," said Elie Wiesel, writer, philosopher, and Nobel Peace Prize recipient.

This profound statement prefaces the material they presented on an empowering, enlightening eight-week seminar, called, "Exploring the Meaning of Life." Whether we help residents, clients and/or families prepare for the inevitable, their loved one's decline, or we are simply looking for a means to process life, review challenges and gifts, face the questions we have never satisfactorily answered, we could use a model presented by colleagues at the University of Michigan, Turner Geriatric Center, many years ago.

Janet and Lynn had been working with seniors for many years when they developed an eight-session guided journey examining various aspects of life. This series of discussions can lead clients or their families to a place of comfort, as they are escorted by professional social workers through a discovery and mode to express their life experiences.

The primary goal of this series was to provide an "arena where people could candidly express their previously unspoken thoughts and beliefs, about the meaning of life ... acknowledging and addressing both satisfying and painful experiences."

Each 2 hour session was facilitated by two clinical social workers. The sessions covered core aspects of our lives and by the last session, a celebration was in order and made part of the series. The group was limited to 10-12 clients who agreed to share openly and honestly.

Each session began with an intriguing, sometimes controversial reading to jumpstart the the topic. They were distributed prior to each session so the members had some time to review it in advance of the discussion.


What are the essential parts of yourself that have stayed the same over your lifetime and what parts have changed?

How has aging affected who you are?


Who among the people in your life influenced your feeling or thoughts about the meaning of life?

What role has love played in your outlook on life?

Relationships are often conflicted or disappointing. Describe a conflicted or disappointing relationship.


Are you satisfied with the choice your are currently making regarding your vocations? If not, how can you change things?

If you weren't limited by your skills or your age, what would you like to do?


From the perspective of what you know now, did times of adversity teach you something?

Do yo think there is meaning in adversity?

Earthly Delights

What is an object that symbolizes or demonstrates an earthly delight for you?

What were your family values about pleasure? Do you still maintain these values?


Hoe would you like to die?

Do you have fears about death?

What are your beliefs about death?


What does spirituality mean to you?

How do you incorporate spirituality into your life?


What do you know about life now that you wish you had known when you were younger?

What can you share about your current life and your future that would let younger people know that life is good/its okay to grow old?

Taking a closer look at these topics helps encourage a healthy review of our lives, so as to clear the way for more living and deeper awareness of the value and meaning of our years ahead.


Sylvia Nissenboim is a licensed clinical social worker and who has been working in the field of adult day services in the St. Louis area. She is the director of four adult care and enrichment centers for the American Red Cross and also operates a personal and professional coaching firm, LifeWork Transitions, specializing in caregiving concerns, adult day care management and other aging services, such as virtual coaching and family care giving support groups. She co-authored The Positive Interactions Program, is a national speaker, and has served as president of the Missouri Adult Day Care Association and as a member of the Missouri Governor's Advisory Council on Aging..

© 2005 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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