Posted by Jon Federman

Every day we are bombarded with messages in the media about aging – some subtle and some blatant. It is drilled into our heads that as we get older, we "can't do this anymore" or we're "too old" for that. Shockingly, for those of us who believe these negative images and internalize them, studies show that it can affect our life expectancy by seven and a half years.

Marjie Sokoll, Director of the Betty Ann Greenbaum Miller Center for Jewish Healing, decided to fight back against ageist stereotypes and mindsets by starting the JF&CS Spirited Aging program. "I was angry at our culture for making me feel badly about myself as I found myself internalizing ageism. I started to do research on aging and found that stereotypes of all older adults being cranky or rigid were untrue and in fact, as people age, they become more authentic versions of themselves and more different from one another. That is a very positive message," says Marjie.

No matter where you might be chronologically, the reality is that we are aging every day. The Spirited Aging program supports people of all ages and backgrounds in their search to find meaning, joy, and spirituality in their lives as they grow older. With Marjie leading each group, members read aloud and discuss articles, poems, and/or contemplative texts to spark conversation about aging, in a confidential and safe space. Participants have ranged from 21 to 78 years old.

The Spirited Aging program started four years ago with generous funding from the Rita J. and Stanley H. Kaplan Family Foundation. This enabled us to bring the program to vulnerable older adults in the community. Additionally, Marjie thought the program would be beneficial for JF&CS staff, so in 2014, she started a Spirited Aging group for employees. The group meets approximately once a month, at lunchtime, in a space that allows them to talk frankly about many topics related to aging in a supportive atmosphere.

Four of the participants in the JF&CS staff Spirited Aging group were asked questions about their experiences in the program. Hear from two of those participants, Kathy and Christine, below, and stay tuned for two more accounts next week!

Kathy Burnes, 67 years old

Question 1: What motivated you to want to take the time out of your busy weekly schedule to be part of this group?

I wanted to experience Spirited Aging first-hand and contribute to what is a growing body of Spirited Aging work that is being tailored to different groups (e.g. older adult consumers, and aging service providers).

Question 2: What have you gotten out of your participation in this group?

The discussion is incredibly varied and both personally and professionally relevant. Importantly, I am reminded that while we have much in common and can feel validated, there are also new and differing perspectives that make the group experience very rich.

Question 3: How has this group impacted your own feelings about aging?

I often feel that, as a result of a longer lived life I know a lot and, at the same time, I know very little. The Spirited Aging group allows me to experience both of these feelings at different times!

Christine Guarino, 35 years old

Question 1: What motivated you to want to take the time out of your busy weekly schedule to be part of this group?

I wasn't sure what the group was going to be all about, but I heard positive things about it from colleagues who had participated. I also think Marjie is an inspiring and fascinating person, and I've appreciated the healing circles she offers here, so I knew that any group she was leading was sure to be interesting and thought provoking. To be honest, I wondered whether I would be too "young" to participate, but Marjie is very clear that the group is for people of any age, and I feel that I've gotten a lot out of it.

Question 2: What have you gotten out of your participation in this group?

It's a wonderful way to get to know colleagues in an entirely different context. I am constantly amazed by how much wisdom is in the room, and I have learned so much by listening to other people talk about their experiences and feelings on a particular topic. We've talked about everything from parenting to familial relationships to the #metoo movement to body image, and I always leave the group meetings with a lot to think about. Marjie chooses relevant articles and readings for us to discuss, but also keeps a very flexible format so participants can drive the conversation. The conversations feel like ones I would have sitting around with friends, which is a really unique opportunity in the workplace. I don't think many people get to have these kinds of thoughtful and enriching discussions at work, and I feel lucky that this group exists at JF&CS.

Question 3: How has this group impacted your own feelings about aging?

I think our society/culture teaches us that aging is something to be feared, like it's this negative force we have to constantly fight against, and certainly that there are "right" and "wrong" ways to do it. I think for me this group has helped to dispel a lot of that fear. It's given me the space to think about the fact that we're all aging, all the time, and instead of fearing what getting older might bring, we can embrace it and learn more about ourselves and the world as we age.

Follow the link to read Part II of our series on the JF&CS staff Spirited Aging program.

Jon Federman is the JF&CS Staff Writer. A practicing attorney for more than 15 years, he is thrilled to bring his legal and persuasive writing skills to the JF&CS Marketing Communications department. Jon has a BA from Tufts University and a JD from Boston College Law School. In his spare time he is an exhibiting photographer and an award-winning cartoonist. Jon lived in London, England for five years before returning to Boston in 2011.