Shared by Marjie Sokoll

Tell us about bringing Wise Aging to Boston. How did you get the idea? What did it involve?

In the summer of 2013, I turned 59 years old and began thinking about my upcoming 60th birthday. Having worked with older adults at JF&CS for 20 years, I felt a deep yearning to focus more of my attention on the topic of spirituality and aging. I have always been interested in this topic, even as a young social worker. But as I approached my 60th birthday, I felt excited about exploring this subject in more depth because now it was personal. I imagined immersing myself in literature and sharing my research with my colleagues working with older adults. Serendipitously, I learned that Rabbi Rachel Cowan, someone I had known professionally for many years, was seeking locations to train people as group facilitators in her pioneering Wise Aging curriculum. One year later, I was excited to bring her to JF&CS and we became one of the first communities in the country to train Wise Aging community leaders. Since that time, I have been privileged to gather the trained facilitators at JF&CS to continue our learning.

How did Spirited Aging develop from Wise Aging?

For the first time in history, many of us may have as many as 20 or 30 additional years of life. This new longevity will impact the current generation of Baby Boomers and, as demographics continue to change, Millennials and Generation X. In Composing a Further Life, cultural anthropologist, Mary Catherine Bateson, daughter of Margaret Mead, writes, "We have inserted a new developmental stage into the life cycle, a second stage of adulthood, not an extension tacked on to old age" (p.13). She uses the compelling metaphor of building an addition to your home. This new wing is not stuck on the end of your home – instead, it is like an atrium, inserted in the middle. This image teaches us the importance of creating time and space to examine and appreciate what this longevity bonus means to us.

With this image in mind along with conversations, shared experiences, inspirational readings, and the many rich resources available, we developed the Spirited Aging program. Spirited Aging supports people of all ages and backgrounds in their search to find meaning, joy, and spirituality in their lives as they grow older. With my colleagues, Sue Spielman and Barbara Sternfield, we began offering a variety of programs and groups for clients, JF&CS staff, and the larger community.

Why is spirituality important?

The Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Jung wrote, "A human being would certainly not grow to be seventy or eighty years old if this longevity had no meaning for the species to which he belongs. The afternoon of human life must also have a significance of its own and cannot be merely a pitiful appendage to life's morning" (Modern Man in Search of a Soul, p. 109). Spirituality, or feeling connected with something greater than ourselves, is an avenue to seek this meaning and purpose. For some people this feeling of connection comes from religion. For others, the connection may come from nature, music, art, animals, relationships, etc. There is a growing body of research linking spirituality and religion to the possibility of improved health and well-being. These benefits include, but are not limited to, a better ability to cope with stress as well as the changes and transitions that come with aging, as we now know that isolation has a detrimental impact on health. This research underscores Jung's profound observations.

What are some topics involved in the work of Spirited Aging?

We have a unique opportunity to focus on the many possibilities for growth while also acknowledging the challenges. This is in contrast to the declinist model that is perpetuated in the American media through the negative portrayal of older adults. Some of the topics that may be discussed include:

  • Meaning and purpose
  • Resilience
  • Forgiveness
  • Spirituality and religion
  • Health and wellness
  • Illness and disability
  • Social activism
  • Mindfulness and meditation
  • Contemplative practices
  • Self-care
  • Family dynamics
  • Friendship
  • Finances
  • Ageism
  • Community and social supports
  • Legacy and telling our stories
  • End of life and loss

Why is this work important?
No matter what your chronological age, the reality is that we are aging every day as we breathe in and out! This work is important because it brings meaningful resources to older adult clients at JF&CS and to the community, especially those who are living with chronic illness, struggling with caregiving, and who are bereaved. Spirited Aging offers a sense of hope and asks, "How do we live our later years with resilience and spirit despite the challenges we face?"

Marjorie U. Sokoll, MEd, Director of Spirituality and Aging, is the founder and director of JF&CS Jewish Healing Connections (now called the Betty Ann Greenbaum Miller Center for Jewish Healing). Marjie also provides oversight for the JF&CS Alzheimer's/Related Dementias Family Support Program, spiritual support for the JF&CS Charlotte & Richard Okonow Parkinson's Family Support Program, and is a founding partner at the Kalsman Institute for Judaism and Health. Marjorie earned degrees in sociology and social work from Boston University and Tel Aviv University respectively, a graduate degree in counseling from Northeastern University, and holds a certificate of thanatology from the National Center for Death Education.