“As a life and bereavement coach, a writer, and a Certified Life-Cycle Celebrant® trained in funerals, I have always been fascinated by how human beings react to life’s challenges,” explains Voci. “Among all the challenges we face, grief and loss are universal experiences that all human beings will go through.”
Elaine Voci Navigating Life’s Transitions offers a dynamic curriculum, including instructional coursework for using music, art, and ritual to heal from grief that draws from Voci’s 30 years of professional experience as well as her own personal stories of loss. She writes with honesty, compassion, and a profound understanding of the complexities of dealing with death, dying, and grief. Her caring, authentic approach, combined with her educational background, her masterful storytelling, and her prolific career in group facilitation, coaching, writing, and public speaking, delivers a robust and meaningful learning experience for anyone who wants to explore the possibility of personal transformation and healing from loss.
“Whether you are newly bereaved, or you have been living with the loss of a loved one for some time, it is my intention that these courses will help you manage your grief, no matter where you’re starting from,” says Voci. “My courses are designed to help ease you through one of life’s most significant transitions—the loss of a loved one—with all the dignity and grace it deserves.”
The official launch date for Elaine Voci Navigating Life’s Transitions is June 4, 2019, when both courses will be open for enrollment. Potential students and visitors can enroll at any time, and are invited to join the school’s mailing list to receive monthly newsletters and special offerings only available to subscribers.
About Elaine Voci
Elaine Voci, Ph.D., is a life coach and a Life-Cycle Celebrant®, offering life and bereavement coaching to couples, families, and adults. She teaches workshops on caregiving and conscious aging, and facilitates a quarterly Death Cafe in her community. Dr. Voci is the author of eight inspirational books, a member of the International Women’s Writing Guild, a founding associate member of the Women Speakers Association, and has been named one of the Top Ten Best Life Coaches in Indianapolis by Expertise.com. Her own grief experiences have helped her integrate a positive life philosophy that acknowledges life and death as two sides of the same coin.
*Kaleidoscope comes from the Greek kalos (beautiful) and eidos (form or shape) and skopein (look at) which combines to mean a device for looking at beautiful shapes!
“Bonjour, Madame!” the smiling hotel staffer greeted me at the registration desk as I approached. “Bonjour, Madame” I said in response, smiling at her lovely face and warm eyes. My first trip to Paris had begun several hours earlier when I boarded a comfortable Boeing 767 to take me, my spouse and two dear friends across the Atlantic Ocean and the English Channel to this exciting city. We traveled Economy Comfort class – it costs a little more than coach, and far less than First Class, but affords passengers more leg room and a greater recline capacity. They added a few nice touches (warm cookies, hot hand towels, and free wine, beer and non-alcoholic beverages) to extend the level of hospitality on their non-stop flights.
We arrived in one of the largest airports in the world, Charles De Gaulle, as attested to by the step tracking feature on our phones – 11,000 steps to be specific! As we made our way to customs, it felt like we were on a long indoor hiking trail that would eventually lead us to our driver who was waiting patiently holding an I-pad with our names on the screen. “Bonjour mesdames et messieurs, this way” he urged as he led us through the exit doors, and across the parking area to our van.
Roaring along the three-lane highway leading into the city, he demonstrated nerves of steel as he wove daringly but skillfully, through fast-moving traffic with a speed limit that most drivers seemed to regard as a mere suggestion. There were several harrowing moments when I clutched the door handle and involuntarily shut my eyes, praying that we would survive to see our hotel. Ninety breathless minutes later, we arrived in front of the Marriott Rive Gauche Hotel & Conference Center on a tree-lined street on the Left Bank in the heart of Paris. I resisted the urge to kiss the ground before entering.
With the hotel as our launch pad, we ventured out each day into beautiful parks, neighborhoods, historic areas, and pastry shops, through which Paris expresses its love of fashion, food, wine, history, and romance. Neighborhoods reside peaceably with one another, and the boundaries between areas blend into one cohesive fabric of Parisian life.
The streets are filled with people from many different cultures; the air carries aromas of foods with distinct fragrances that merge into a prevailing social perfume inhaled by all. The sounds of overheard conversations in different languages are part of the charm of the Parisian café experience. The street scene is a watercolor blend of soft and brightly contrasting colors and fabrics from many different styles of dress that reflect the wearers’ cultures and countries. Paris is a global city with a contemporary friendliness, and, yes, a degree of caution. Since the terrorist attacks a few years ago, Parisians have gotten accustomed to seeing armed gendarmes on the sidewalks, at the entrances to historic places, and periodically flying by in police cars across packed roadways with sirens blaring and lights flashing. Every day when we were out and about, we also saw couples kissing: old people, young teens, men and women dressed in business clothing. So much romantic love in this City of Light. And that was Paris during the day!!
At night, the scene intensifies with people walking home from work, talking on cell phones while sipping cocktails at outdoor cafes brimming with people, dogs on leashes, and people on bikes and motorized scooters in neon colors weaving their way through the streets and sidewalks with steely and brazen abandon. One night we were out and looked across a large plaza to see the Eiffel Tower only visible halfway up into the evening sky due to a thick fog that had rolled in unannounced. It was eerily beautiful, distant, and mysterious.
Paris is a kaleidoscope of memories, too, that will remain in my heart for the rest of my days. I will remember the husband and wife who worked side by side in their small restaurant, showering their guests with deliciously prepared local foods seasoned with their warmth and affection. With a bit of English and French, with hand gestures and smiles, we managed to communicate where we were from and they told us their story of making a life in Paris. Connected by a sense of community with our fellow sojourners, we were made to feel at home in the warmth of this lovely café.
I will remember the little boy whose smile warmed my heart as he was slowly toddling up the stairs of Sainte Chapelle cathedral as I waited for my mate at the top of the stairs. This little boy’s eyes found my eyes and held them, slowly smiling at me, and then engaged me in silently cheering for him as he held his mother’s hand, and climbed up each stone step unsteadily until he had reached the top, widely grinning at his mother, and at me, in triumph. I was reminded of my own children and grandchildren when they were toddlers, and I felt a surge of maternal love toward him that stayed with me for the rest of the day.
I will remember the poignancy of the D-Day Tour we took in Normandy, and the small packets of silk that had been sewn by French women in the small coastal city of Sainte Mare Eglise that were on display in a museum there. The packets were made from fallen silk parachutes that had been salvaged and used for a sacred purpose: the small squares were filled with the soil in which the fallen soldiers had been buried and then the packets were mailed to their parents in the United States so that they might feel a sense of being able to touch the holy ground in which their sons and daughters lay in eternal rest. This tenderly intentional act of compassion and love expressed the common humanity of the people of France who had suffered greatly and the people of the United States who had sacrificed greatly.
Traveling is one of the best ways to open your mind and heart to the world. It has been said we travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us. I encourage your wanderlust – as Saint Augustine advised, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel, read only one page.”
It is with great joy and appreciation of our shared vision and interests that I announce to you that my online school, known as Elaine Voci Navigating Life’s Transitions, will soon launch on teachable.com. My first course offerings will focus on grief and grieving.
Navigating Life’s Transitions intends to weave together the knowledge that we all share a surprising ability to be resilient, and the “direct” knowing that grief deepens our interpersonal connections, with my commitment to creating a more compassionate world.
As you connect with my school’s courses on teachable.com, you will find comforting ways to experience, explore, and engage with your grief to enrich your life and inspire you to find a path to healing.
“Suicide, Betrayal and Coming Home,” a new article from Elaine Voci about the traumatic loss of her husband and her seven-year journey through grief and healing, was recently published at OpenToHope.com.
Indianapolis, IN – In her new book, The Five Most Harmful Myths About Grief, Indianapolis-based bereavement expert, life coach, and Death Cafe facilitator Elaine Voci, Ph.D., uses her masterful storytelling skills and years of professional experience to dispel bad advice that can be harmful to people who are grieving. Healthy grieving, Voci explains, includes self-compassion and the ability to recognize harmful advice and common myths that can negatively impact the healing process when mourning a loved one.
Facing the loss of loved ones, and the grief that accompanies those losses, is a unique and individual life-changing experience. The Five Most Harmful Myths About Grief compassionately examines the myths, perpetuated in society, that create fear, guilt, and often lead to the bereaved asking themselves, “Am I doing this right?” Voci clearly and empathetically confirms that there isn’t a “right” way, or only one way, to grieve.
“There is a growing agreement among death educators that grieving does not follow a set of stages,” says Voci. “Instead, it comes in oscillating waves, a dual process that goes back and forth between being focused on loss, and being focused on restoring ourselves.”
Sharing compelling stories of grief and loss that she has faced in her own life, Voci crafts a comforting, insightful, honest narrative that draws its authenticity from her prolific career, specialized training, and personal experiences. She explains how she, and others, live with and process the emotions and changes that accompany grief, and illustrates how recognizing bad advice—the myths about how, when, and for how long one should mourn—is essential for healthy grieving. Voci provides guidance for navigating these harmful falsehoods, and offers healthy ways to ease the pain of grief, honor loved ones, and accept that loss and grieving are universal human experiences.
“The grief journeys I have taken have given me the gift of courage to keep loving others even at the risk of one day losing them,” explains Voci. “My hope is that this booklet will add to your grace as you are opened, deepened, strengthened, and softened by your grief.”
The Five Most Harmful Myths About Grief is published by Dog Ear Publishing, and is available in paperback format at popular online retailers including Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. The e-book version is forthcoming.
Review copies of The Five Most Harmful Myths About Grief are available to media contacts upon request.
Author Elaine Voci is available for interviews.
About Elaine Voci Elaine Voci, Ph.D., is a life coach and a Life-Cycle Celebrant®, offering life and bereavement coaching to couples, families, and adults. She teaches workshops on caregiving and conscious aging, and facilitates a quarterly Death Cafe in her community. Dr. Voci is the author of eight inspirational books, a member of the International Women’s Writing Guild, and has been named one of the Top Ten Best Life Coaches in Indianapolis by Expertise.com. Her own grief experiences have helped her integrate a positive life philosophy that acknowledges life and death as two sides of the same coin.
Life is short, shorter than we know, and at the end of our days what do we want to be said about who we were, how we lived, the good that we did, and the legacy that we left behind? I am visiting these questions right now because one of my favorite people on this earth is dying and I regard his wonderful life as a success. His name is KT and he lives in North Carolina in an award-winning home he helped design and build.
The long drive leading to this glorious house is punctuated by a handsome large wooden Totem Pole that he hand-crafted, prompting one friend to observe in wonderment, “Is there nothing he can’t do?” His special round yurt house sits in grandeur on a small lake where, at night, the dark water reflects the moonlight and the stars. During the day, the house receives the sunshine through its many walls and windows of glass. Like its owner, the house has a Big Presence on the land.
My friend, KT, has been in my life since my early thirties; he has always been a bear of a man, tall, sturdy, bearded, and with such twinkling eyes they could only be matched by the eyes of Santa Claus. His eyes tell a story – he knows things, he is wise to the ways of the world, and he is in on the joke. His presence in a roomful of people is such that you only have to follow the sound of laughter to find him.
A Peace Corp member during his mid-life, KT was placed, with his beloved former wife, Laura, in the Soloman Islands. His natural affinity for people, his unquenchable curiosity, and his smiling, caring personality made his time there well-remembered and his contributions lasting. The photos he took during those two years represented a fabulous adventure to be lived vicariously by his pals here in Indy, in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. He narrated a witty and amazing slide show for his friends that none of us will ever forget. His camera captured the spirit of a people and his photographs were uniquely and hauntingly beautiful. Since I lived and worked in Japan around the same time, we three share a sense of what it feels like to be far from home, a stranger in a strange land, and how we each made friends with people that have lasted beyond those days. We know what it is like to be citizen diplomats and to represent our home country, in our adopted ones, with great love.
KT is a gifted therapist; trained in Gestalt Therapy and Neurolinguistics, there is a magical quality to his work, and he is eloquent and brash in a special way that moves and inspires people. He spent quality time in the company of healers like Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and Richard Moss; he made decisions about the end of life that I think can be summed up by this phrase, “My life, my death, my choice.”
This winter, recognizing that his body was wearing out, he intentionally decided not to pursue any further medical support for his health. Hospice is attending to him at home, and he is pain free, and surrounded by his loved ones, a gathering of special women in his life, who are honoring his choice with compassion, love and devoted care.
Through Facebook many friends and colleagues from around the country and the world have been posting messages that are being read to him. These are testimony to the deep affection, and admiration that is felt for KT, a web of unconditional love, and tributes to a life well-lived.
Author and commentator, David Brooks, has written in his book, The Road to Character, that there are two kinds of virtues we can develop – resume virtues and eulogy virtues. Resume virtues are the skills we bring to the marketplace, while eulogy virtues are those that are talked about at our funeral – such as were we brave, kind, generous, and capable of deep love?
While KT has plenty of resume virtues, those are not the ones people are commenting about on Facebook; they are writing reflections on his warm inner light, his deep goodness, his excellent listening skills, and the way he can make us feel playful and valued. His laughter is ever ready and infused with gratitude. He hasn’t been selfish, but has had a generosity of spirit and a depth of character that has informed all the different roles he has played in life, including son, father, friend, husband, former husband, neighbor, artist, photographer, therapist, and world traveler.
To me, it seems that at some point in his personal growth, instead of asking what he wanted from life, KT asked what life was asking of him, and then he set about providing it. He has had his share of suffering, of painful experiences, of defeats and redemptions. He has had his human failings like the rest of us. But what his friends are telling him is that he will never be forgotten for all the good he has done, all the love he has given, and all the glorious examples of how to live that he has shown us. Well done, KT, and well served. I love you. Here’s to your great and successful life; may you be blessed as you are cherished in this life and beyond.
Life is such an interesting adventure, isn’t it? You just never know when wisdom is going to show up, stick out its hand to shake yours, and then proceed to expand your world view in a flash of unexpected sagacity. It’s one of my favorite things that happens in life, and I have been blessed with my share of wondrous and growth-producing conversations, and chance encounters. I have come to think of them as signs on the roadway of life steering me in the direction of my journey, in the same way that signs on a highway provide geographic guidance. Let me share an example of uncommon wisdom that has stayed with me ever since I received it from a kindly stranger.
I was a guest speaker at a church service a few years ago, and after I had finished, some of the people in the audience came up to chat with me. One of them was an elderly man who waited patiently to speak with me while holding a folded paper in his hands. We shared a brief conversation, and I learned that he was a retired minister who had given many sermons in his long career, and one of them was printed on the paper that he held in his hands. It was titled, The Parable of the Pencil. He could not recall where he had gotten it, or who had authored it, but, based on my talk, he felt sure that I was a kindred spirit who would enjoy sharing it in future presentations. He gave it to me, we smiled at each other, and he walked away, blending into the crowd. Even though I returned to that church a number of times later, I never saw him again.
As it turned out, my sweet messenger was right: I have enjoyed sharing the Parable with other audiences and it always seem to please people. Perhaps because of its simple prudence, or because the metaphor of a pencil is easy to remember. Here it is for your enjoyment and inspiration:
“The Pencil Maker took the Pencil aside just before putting Her in the pencil box. There are five things you need to know and must never forget, and you will become the best pencil you can be.
One: You will be able to do many great things, but only if you allow yourself to be held in someone’s hand.
Two: You will experience a painful sharpening from time to time, but you will need it to become a better pencil.
Three: You will be able to correct any mistakes you might make along the way.
Four: The most important part of you will always be what’s inside.
Five: On every surface you are used on, you must leave your mark. No matter what the condition, you must continue to write.
The Pencil understood and promised to remember, and took her place in the box with purpose in her heart.
Now replace the Pencil with You.
You will be able to do great things but only if you allow yourself to be held by a purpose greater than yourself and allow other human beings to access you for the unique gifts you possess.
You may experience painful problems and go through difficult times but these will help you become a stronger, more resourceful, and resilient person.
You will be able to make amends and correct mistakes you might make in life.
What is inside – your spirit, your heart, your soul – will always be the most important part of you.
On every path and situation you walk through you must leave a mark and make your contribution using the special talents only you possess.”
In closing, I usually add some final words of encouragement, such as, “Never allow yourself to become discouraged and think your life is insignificant; the world is regularly changed by one person with a brave heart, a good idea, or a sense of purpose. Playing small will not serve the world – you are meant to shine and manifest your gifts to the world. There will never be another you; you are unique and you have a unique contribution to make in order to leave the world a better place than when you found it. “
My closing words are spoken in recognition of the gentle stranger who waited to give me the story he himself had told many times before, and of his desire to pass it on to a kindred spirit in order to keep the circle expanding. Well met on that Sunday – seeking to inspire, I have been inspired by him ever since.
It’s January 2019 and a new year is underway. I have been busy doing all the things that are asked of us when a new year begins: I looked back, I reflected on my goals and how I succeeded or failed to meet them; I took down the tree and put away all the decorations. I also read again one of the essays that has been a favorite of mine for years. You may know it. It’s by George Bernard Shaw titled, “A Splendid Torch.”
This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.
I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no ‘brief candle’ for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”
I love his sentiments; it’s really a philosophy of life, and it has always spoken to me because it aligns with how I grew up. All four of my grandparents were Italian immigrants to America at the turn of the century; they left the “old country” because they wanted their children to have a better life, more opportunities, and a better chance to succeed. They struggled, they spent time with other Italian immigrants at first while they made their way to finding work, and a place to live, and to learn the customs of their new homeland. They all spoke “broken English” which I and my cousins and siblings thought was mildly humorous and slightly confusing, and they were each forward-looking people. They imagined a new life and made it a reality through their hard work, determination, and by keeping faith in themselves and in the goodness of others.
When Shaw writes that his life “belongs to the whole community” and it’s a “privilege to do for it whatever” he can, I am reminded of my grandparents’ examples: my grandmothers routinely helped their neighbors, cooked meals for people who were ill, and often sent us out to deliver foods, like a loaf of homemade bread, to families who were in need. My maternal grandmother took in boarders to help make ends meet, but she did something that went far beyond that: she took in an Italian widower with three small children, including a baby boy, whose wife had died. She opened her home and her heart and raised the kids while he went to work to earn a wage that allowed him to care for their material needs. He had a room of his own, and his children were so fully integrated into the family that when we kids were growing up, we simply called them our aunts and uncle. In the homes of both of my grandmothers, there was always love enough to go around.
My grandfathers worked at manual labor when they first came to America, and one of them eventually became a shoemaker, always repairing someone’s broken heels, replacing torn laces, and tending to shoes so that they lasted a long time, saving money for their owners. My other grandfather did all kinds of jobs until his two sons grew up and then he began a construction business with both of them that eventually lead to a very successful set of companies that provided good jobs for people in the community. One of my uncles became a town selectman and helped lead and serve the community’s government. In the towns where they lived, both of my grandfathers were known and respected for their contributions and their pride in America.
Of course, their children, including my Mom and Dad, were earnest people who believed that each generation was meant to improve upon the one before, so they made their mark, too. In the joyful mix of their siblings was a cornucopia of many different professions: nurses, business owners, entrepreneurs, a college professor, a drapery consultant, and salesmen. They were hard-working, had a sense of responsibility to look out for their neighbors and their fellow citizens, and they gladly met their obligations to their own parents and siblings.
My parent’s home was an energetic Party Central – it was not unusual for 20-30 relatives to show up for Sunday cookouts in the back yard during the summer. The food was plentiful, the music coming from the “45” records played on the turntable was a mix of show tunes, Italian opera, and pop favorites like Perry Como. My siblings and I learned the meaning of being charitable, and loving our family, as we saw our parents taking care of others, and making their home a welcoming place. It was just as likely for us to hear politics discussed in heated voices, as it was to hear someone spontaneously burst into song, waving a wine glass overhead, and smiling.
When my older sister was taking the exam to become a registered nurse, my mother welcomed her and about five of her friends for supper the night before. We had just had a hurricane a few days before that knocked out power to the whole area. My mother was unfazed and cooked a full spaghetti and meatballs dinner for all of them, in the backyard, on a small Coleman “stove” (two burners that resembled hot plates)! It was actually a fun event with candles lighting our meal, lively conversation, and a sense of fellowship filling our hearts along with her delicious food.
As you can see, I lived among people whose lives burned brightly; their reflections influenced my thoughts, and shaped my values. As an adult, I have strived to create a life that also burns like a torch and I hope to be an influence on the lives of my children and grandchildren that they, too, will carry their own torches into their communities, seeking to make the world a better place. These are noble ambitions, and worthy goals, and they foster passion and purpose.
As a new year gets underway, I am grateful and excited about my new goals, new adventures, and new people. I hope that my activities this year will contribute to my being “thoroughly used up when I die.” Welcome, 2019, I’m glad to meet you!
The season of light is upon us, and with it, comes an opportunity to go within, to seek inner peace, and to take the time for solitude and reflection. Winter is the season that bids us to grow still as silent snow falls onto earth, coating trees and the landscape with frozen, glistening winter white everywhere we look.
Reflecting on the year that is about to conclude, I smile and I breathe in simple joy remembering our travels. We first went on a road trip in February driving ourselves and our little dog Winky to visit friends and family in Austin, Scottsdale, and Dallas; at each place we enjoyed their version of “Happy Hour” – a practice we have continued ever since coming home!
Then we took a bucket-list trip that I have nurtured for years – an unbelievably beautiful train trip from Vancouver to places that included Lake Louise, Calgary, and Banff. The gem of Canada, the Rocky Mountaineer train ride is luxurious, pampering, deliciously stocked with gourmet foods and beverages, and provides an unforgettable immersion into the natural beauty and majesty of the Canadian Rockies.
Finally, in July, we spent a week with family in a large beach house on Cape Cod that sleeps 14 (we filled each bed) and was situated right on the water, with two sandbars, and located near the historic town of Hyannis, home of President John F. Kennedy’s family compound. We ate lobsters in many forms (steamed, salad, lobster rolls), a local sensation, fried clams, and ice cream at a place notably called “Sundae School,” as well as a home cooked Greek meal worthy of a festival! We ate like Kings!
This year was also a time of realizing my blessings as a life coach, having met with many clients from previous years as well as new ones. Teaching the course, Conscious Aging, for the local organization, Oasis, has given me numerous chances to explore what makes life meaningful with elders who are 65 + in age. We know that good mental health relies on three things, no matter how old we are:
Something to do – Meaningful engagements with work (volunteer or paid) and the community, or our family, that fill our hearts, minds, and spirits with energy, joy, and a sense of purpose.
Something to love – Being with people we care for and who care for us; being involved with a sense of mission that is devoted to something greater than ourselves. Delighting in time spent on passionate hobbies, such as painting, writing, and storytelling, all bring a sense of doing what we love and contributing to others.
Something to hope for – This one comes up more often than the other two in my Conscious Aging classes. What elders find most challenging is how to avoid becoming pessimistic, or depressed, in the face of life’s more difficult times, such as the loss of loved ones, or the loss of a career, or a familiar neighborhood. Growing old is not for sissies, and so much depends on our attitude and the ability to stay in a positive mindset that actually encourages healthy living and good habits. Counting our blessings in daily gratitude seems to be an effective way to retain youthful optimism, a sense of hopefulness for the future, and a graceful manner with others that helps attract friends and companions.
As you take stock of this soon-to-be past year, I hope you find a good measure of all three of these “somethings” worth pursuing in your own life. I send you best wishes for a beautiful holiday season. Peace be with you.
I teach a series of classes called Conscious Aging; the curriculum was developed over four years of field testing by the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS). There are five interconnected goals for participants:
To explore unexamined, self-limiting beliefs about aging and make more conscious choices about our worldviews on aging
To develop self-compassion to cope with aging
To discover and reflect on what has given heart and meaning to our lives
To enhance our connection with others and reduce isolation
To reduce fear of death and increase acceptance of dying
Over the past year, I have facilitated conversations in groups of elders that have been enlightening, humorous, and inspiring. As I was thinking about the coming season of Thanksgiving I wanted to share some highlights that have made me feel grateful as an IONS facilitator.
In one class, we had been discussing surrender, the process of letting go that relates to accepting reality, rather than avoiding or denying it. As people age, they are faced with a reality of many losses, including the loss of a career they may have loved, the loss of a neighborhood they may have lived in for many years, and the loss of independence as bodily ailments of aging wear out joints and cause pain. To complement the topic, I created an activity in which I laid out on a table a selection of stones with words written on one side and placed them face down in a circle. Participants were asked to come up and choose one they liked, without turning it over to see the word on it. After they returned to their seats, each was asked to reveal the word written on the stone they had selected, and what it meant to them as it related to surrender.
One woman said “I chose this stone because I liked its color green; it has the word ‘dream’ on it. This is a reminder that I still have the power to choose what is possible for me now in this stage of life. I have wanted to travel more and I have considered the reasons why my family is lukewarm to my plans, or downright opposed! They want me to stay close to home, where they can keep an eye on my comings and goings, but I want to live in a bigger world. I want to see Paris, and Rome before I die. I want to go on one of those senior trips where there’s a tour guide, and I don’t have to travel by myself, but can be part of a group of people like me – curious and still adventurous. Being in this class has made me determined to remain independent as long as I can and if I want to travel, I think I should surrender to that desire because I am not getting any younger!” At those words, the group burst into spontaneous applause, and I noticed that they were all grinning, beaming at her, as they shared their excitement about her pronounced intentions. Her clarity and enthusiasm was contagious!
Another woman had chosen a stone with the word “courage” on it and she told us that it represented her desire to pass on what she knows. She told us about a sermon she had heard a few years ago that had impacted her self-awareness and was still with her today as she looked at the stone. In the sermon, she had heard the question, “What are you pretending not to know?” and she recalled feeling a small “bomb” go off in her solar plexus that made her literally lose her breath for a moment. She told us that she’s always known she was meant to share her wisdom about life, but for years she had avoided speaking with authority about what she wanted to pass on to the younger generation in her family. She felt unworthy and shy. The stone she had chosen was “not by accident” she insisted. It was a reminder, a “tap on the shoulder” to get on with it, and to share her life stories with her grandkids before it was too late.
The group affirmed her decision to fully accept the role of the family elder that she had long envisioned. Many said they could relate to her desire to share her wisdom, and I reminded the group that this is a process of aging called generativity, a term first coined by the psychoanalyst Erik Erikson in 1950 to denote “a concern for establishing and guiding the next generation.” It’s a life-affirming process in which elders literally give themselves away in order to contribute to a greater sense of community, to joyfully mentor and coach the next generation, and to do so with the tolerance, understanding, and patience they had acquired from living a long life.
Each class has had moments like these; wonderfully heartfelt, authentic conversations that help elders reflect on past choices, let go of what no longer serves them, and embrace change, not as something to dread or to resent, but as something to welcome and engineer on their own terms. Each unique group of seniors has left me feeling grateful for the chance to connect with them. They are intelligent spiritual sojourners, kindred souls full of passion and humor, as well as wise elders with the gravitas that comes with advanced age.
I will be thinking of them this year at the Thanksgiving table and I will give thanks for what they have so generously taught me about successful aging. And I will take to heart the admonition of one writer about older adults that “Just cause there is snow on the roof, doesn’t mean there’s not a fire inside.” (Bonnie Hunt)