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Spirituality and aging:  How to talk to elderly parents about what's most important

by Rev. Dale Susan Edmonds, Talk Early ... Talk Often

Spirituality and aging is a topic that many people shy away from. They view the realm of the spirit as private, personal, or best left to professionals.

If you develop the confidence to talk about spirituality and aging, you will discover many resources that could help your senior parents to cope with their increasing life challenges. Clarifying spiritual values and beliefs can also provide a foundation for many choices and decisions that must be made in later life.

Spirituality is different from religion. Regardless of whether your parents ascribe to a particular religion or not, they can benefit from talking about spiritual matters. A more universal approach to spirituality gives you an opportunity to engage your elders about things that are deeper than the everyday shopping list. You'll be empowered to draw them out about what's most pressing on their minds and deepest in their hearts.

Another reason you may shy away from conversations about spirituality and aging is that you are concerned that your beliefs may be different or in conflict with your senior parents. The goal of the conversation is not that they should convert you, nor you convert them to your way of thinking. The task is listening and understanding what they honor and what they value. Diving in with questions about God, death, or an existence after death may seem overwhelming. But conversations about what grounds them, what is treasured, what they’ve learned, what they draw on to sustain them, and how they would like to be remembered may be essential for you to begin.

Renewed Life Purpose

A book titled, What are Old People For? gives tongue-in-cheek expression to an underlying cultural sentiment. As a larger culture glorifies youth, and heavily markets everything that is "anti-aging" it becomes harder and harder for senior citizens to claim their rightful place in society's hierarchy.

As such, many senior citizens struggle with their own sense of worth and value in aging, and a spiritual perspective can help them gain a renewed understanding. You can affirm their place in the Big Picture, the calling that guided them through life, the larger purposes that they pursued.


Talking about their legacy is a great way to help your parents consider their place in history. Their name may not appear in a history book, or on the side of a building, but what they leave behind is more important and more lasting.

Some possible questions:

  • What qualities do you hope to pass on?
  • What have you learned?
  • What stories do you want to make sure we know?
  • What lessons do you hope we're learning?

Life Review

Originally considered a “spontaneous psychological event” near the end of life, the process of Life Review has years of scholarly backing. It can be a useful tool to help your aging parents look closely and “make sense” of their life story. Remembering and story-telling in a variety of ways evokes a deeper spirituality and aging provides a life-long canvas.

Life review can be used to pass on family tales, to heal estrangements, to make peace with past mistakes, or to encourage another generation. "The Story" belongs to your aging parent, not told for factual accuracy, but for its psychic and spiritual gift.

You can encourage them to share stories, complete a family history, arrange photographs, try scrap-booking, even keep a journal. Life review can be formal or informal, but the benefits to your parent and to a wider family circle can be invaluable.

Wise and Wonderful

Sarah Collins The Little Guide to Big Changes Wellness Care Today Visualize a flower becoming a bud, and then slowly growing into the beautiful flower it is meant to become. This is a great metaphor of the journey of life. Just as a flower reaches its peak of beauty at full maturity, the senior years […]

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