It’s a philosophy that 82-year-old Sr. Mary Rose Marrin lives out daily, battling the culture of agism.
“Our culture feels that there is something wrong with the process of aging, that somehow we shouldn’t be doing it,” said Marrin, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph Toronto. “In this culture adulthood has become the ideal vision and the goal of human development. (But) aging offers an opportunity to mature into a new outlook on an understanding of life beyond the barriers or activities that circumscribe the earlier years.”
With life expectancy in the western world having gained an additional 30 years over the past century, coupled with the inflating global population, more people than ever are living well into the golden years.
Preparing for those years is not just about collecting RRSPs and fine-tuning your Will, but also about re-evaluating perceptions of growing old.
“Examine your attitudes about aging and about your own aging,” she said. “Whatever these attitudes are, they will determine more than anything else our capacity for ongoing growth as we age. (So) create a personal vision of aging that incorporates the reality that it is an invitation to unparalleled inner growth.”
There is also a need, she said, to learn to accept that which comes with old age — loss. While loss takes on many forms — such as the loss of independence, mobility or loved ones — it is always accompanied by pain which can lead to serious mental health ailments.
“One of the greatest widespread diseases among the elderly is depression,” said Marrin. “(It’s) depression that cannot in anyway be explained with a specific thing but can be very burdensome. The frightening thing about becoming depressed is that it can very easily lead to dementia.”
Avoiding this pitfall often requires a new understanding of loss.
“Adjustments to the losses of the aging process is the central psychological and spiritual task of the maturing years,” she said. “Continuing growth demands that we acknowledged the pain of loss, that we enter the struggle of grief and that we move forward into new life. Every loss has the potential for new life.”
Along with an attitude adjustment Marrin suggests finding support.
“People moving into older years, they need tremendous support,” she said. “Old age is not for sissies. It takes courage, deep faith, a spirit of adventure and plenty of good humour.”
The need for ministering to maturing adults is “very evident,” said Mary Perry White, the lay person overseeing the maturing adults ministry at St. Mary’s parish in Barrie, Ont. “Most people will come to their church for a traditional connection to their faith through the service, but this will give them opportunities to meet on a different level.”
Marrin founded the ministry in 2007, the first of its kind in the Archdiocese of Toronto. After laying the ground work for five years, Marrin passed the torch to Perry White, who earned a certificate in spiritual gerontology from the Johnston Institute in Missouri.
Perry White strives to provide a variety of events such as public lectures, evening socials and multi-day courses. These events, typically organized by the parish’s maturing adults, attract as many 300 and as few as 10 depending on the event.
“Some of the small events there is real interconnectedness with people, supporting each other,” said Perry White. “The friendships that have developed from this have been wonderful. Those are the unforeseen successes and the blessings of this ministry.”
Marrin takes the message of the ministry to heart, spending her time travelling to deliver lectures on ministering to those in the second half of life.
“I’d like to see this ministry in every parish,” she said. “We need to ponder and to discover … (and) to incorporate spiritual practices in our daily routine. That is why we need ministry with maturing adults.”