Today is a very special day for my family - my mother turns 100 years old.
If we guess as to how many years we have, few of us would likely say they’d reach a century. But statistics show there are more than 90,000 persons over 100 in the U.S.
Studies have been written about the eldest of our elders, their sense of the divine and what helps them make sense of having lived a very long life. They are often asked: what’s your secret to longevity?
My mom has asked us why she is still around. There is no question that she is needed and wanted — she’s the center of the family — the matriarch. She has helped us in many ways by reflecting Jesus’ work in the world and helping us develop compassionate values.
How do we help her continue in her faith journey? Yes, it’s still a journey. Her wisdom and spirit may be more attuned, but she continues to have religious and spiritual needs.
I can reach out to friends, attend services, read scripture and find meaning and purpose. But say I lose some abilities to engage, become a bit isolated or just plain weary. How would I sustain meaning and connection? For many in this centenarian generation, faith has remained a constant throughout their lives. They may no longer be able to get to services and be with those who have formed bonds of faith with them. This is where the link loosens.
Belief in God, the divine, continuing their journey of faith, unconditional love and feelings of affirmation can lead these centenarians to positive feelings of acceptance, validation and inner strength.
And as seniors lose their independence, they are often missing out on the community they felt so attached to. Research shows that aging people of faith who are connected to communities of faith show discernible mental and physical benefits when compared to those without this connection.
Unless we ask them, we don’t really know where a person is in their faith journey. I spoke to a gentleman a while back who was moved to tears by the thought of spending eternity with Jesus. As the tears fell, it was remarkable how there was no fear of death — just a readiness and joy for eternal life.
It may be as simple as just asking: How are your spirits today? There is a universal human need to connect with others, our communities, our sense of the divine.
These are the people who need to hear the message the most! The message that may bring them back to basic teachings they learned as a child by enjoying the hymns and the prayers of their youth.
The oldest of our elders may develop memory loss but we can’t diminish their need for spiritual connection. It can be a challenge but connecting in any way we can, validating their spiritual needs is time well spent.
Margie Adams, MA, is the staff chaplain at PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center.