“If we are going to make good decisions we have to be in a frame of mind that is peaceful and free,” said Marrin, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph Toronto.
While Marrin, who specializes in ministering to the elderly, is specifically referring to decisions surrounding “end-of-life issues,” she said the principle holds true for all life’s decisions. But in a society fixated on youth, there is a lot of anxiety about entering our golden years, she said, leaving many seniors spiritually restless.
“We all have a prejudice against growing old,” she said. “We consider it a bad thing to do and so we avoid it.”
Not only do some view aging as an inevitable tragedy, they are outright terrified of what comes with it — loss.
“An essential task as people get older is dealing with loss,” she said, noting it is both a psychosocial and spiritual task. “(But) any time we deal with loss there is pain involved and we do everything that we can to avoid that pain. Sometimes we make decisions that aren’t good because we think that we are going to avoid the pain.”
And loss takes on many forms in the second half of life. Upon retirement you lose your job, a significant portion of your income, your title or status within a community.
From there people typically experience health and mobility issues and are less able to look after themselves in their own home.
“People sometimes don’t even recognize loss,” said Marrin. “They don’t recognize that every step along the way involves losses and all those losses are full of pain. We deal with pain either by trying to avoid the pain or moving into the pain and struggling with it and coming up with compassion and insight.”
Doing the latter relies on tapping into one’s capacity for inner growth, something Marrin said people gain more of in their golden years. For Catholics, inner growth is a synonym for deepening spirituality, she said, which is best accomplished through prayer and discernment.
Those kind of prayers that you’ve always had in your life are still going to be important but you might learn some new prayer styles or begin to learn meditation,” said Beverly O’Grady, a team member with the Office of Formation for Discipleship in the Archdiocese of Toronto. “It is a very rich experience to reflect on your life. We need to foster ways to find meaning in our lives.”
O’Grady, one of the Archdiocese of Toronto’s spiritual directors, suggests everyone participate in an eight-day silent retreat after retiring.
“An eight-day spiritual retreat in and of itself is a remarkable experience to really begin to listen inside yourself,” said O’Grady.
“We want to be able to collect and appreciate the gifts of our past but also look forward. We need to create new paradigms to see movement towards God rather than falling into the abyss of loss.”
But not everyone is able to recognize this potential within themselves as they age. Too often people are blinded by the fear of loss, said Marrin, leading them away from sound decisions and often bringing about additional unnecessary loss.
“The reality is that as people get older they often have a lot of fears, they are often very unpeaceful and anxious,” she said. “If they are dominated by fear, that fear is going to influence how they make decisions. People who make decisions out of fear don’t make good decisions.”
Although help with strengthening one’s sense of spirituality and peace can come from those in consecrated life, the responsibility to do so falls on the individual, said Marrin.
“We have a real responsibility to take a look at this and say what does this inner potential mean and how do we support its growth,” said Marrin. “One gets a great deal of insight and strength from this.”