Life Review Reinforces Worth for Elderly

Life Review Reinforces Worth for Elderly


Jim Stinson, Consultant on Older Adult Ministries

2/1/2013

I grow old . . . I grow old . . .

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Since my days in college, where I majored in English, there are certain lines of poetry that suddenly pop into my head. Long after I’ve forgotten the details of a specific poem, the words simply reappear, almost daring me to recollect their setting and their meaning. These words from T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” did exactly that the other day.

I knew the words came from this poem. I even knew the poem, among other things, reflected Eliot as a young man, as he mused about the meaning and worth of his life. However, I had forgotten just how morose the poem appeared to me when I first read it as a young man bursting with energy and enthusiasm, certain of my own ability to make a mark for the better on the world.

The memory came back as I reread the poem for the first time in nearly 50 years. Suddenly the feelings came back, the feelings that wanted to scream at the questions Eliot raises in the poem. The feelings came as I reread the lines that follow his thoughts about the directions and possibilities of his life, the lines that ask if, after all is said and done, And would it have been worth it, after all, would it have been worthwhile, after the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets . . . would it have been worth while? 

Eliot, it seemed to this naïve, starstruck young man, sounded way too self-involved. Why couldn’t he simply live and enjoy, embracing every moment? Why did he have to analyze the life out of living? Why did he have to worry about whether his life had meaning? Of course, it did!

I guess those questions never were answered to my satisfaction. But be that as it may, the musings led me to reflect on my life and to ask some of the same questions. At 70-plus years of age, I see life and the world differently than I did as a naïve, idealistic 19-year-old. I now know the many ways of life that bring a person to question the reason and worth of it all. But even that is not the point of these inner thoughts. The point is that older adults often find themselves examining their life, asking questions of relevance, asking in their own way: “After all would it have been worth while?”

In fact, it is such a common occurrence that it has its own vocabulary and has sparked a field of activity among those who work with older adults. It is called Life Review. It is a practice that encourages older folks to reminisce, and review the events in their lives. It is a movement that recognizes that the importance of a person’s life becomes clearer, as it is reviewed. In examining one’s life, the lives that have been touched by the reviewer are recalled, the wisdom gained over a lifetime is revealed, and questions often give way to answers.

So, in ministry with older adults, create environments in which review is welcomed and shared, environments which value reminiscing as a gift of enlightenment, rather than another “story I have to hear, another story I’ve heard a hundred time before.” Allow people to ask the question, for only in asking can answers be found.

I grow old . . . I grow old . . .

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

And as I do, as our parishioners do, as our parents do, allow us this practice. Let them be in a place where it is seen as a safe and essential part of the journey of life. Allow them to discover that, in fact, their lives have been, and still are, worthwhile.



Feel free to print or share with your congregation. © 2013 Rev. James Stinson