Nancy Rhine, a gerontologist and marriage and family therapist in Mill Valley, California, has helped about 40 older adults prepare and process late life rituals with hours of retrospective and introspection, art, and music. “They look at inheritance, life evaluation, inventory,” she said. “It’s that seeking, a contemplative exercise.” Her oldest client was 81.
Kris Govaars turned 70 this spring and is still mourning his wife, Vicki Govaars, who passed away in 2019, just weeks after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. “I was a boat without a chain,” said Mr. Govaars, a former architectural consultant in the Bay Area. “I struggled and tried to figure out my next steps.”
He came across the Center for Conscious Eldering, founded by Ron Pevny, author of “Conscious Living, Conscious Aging,” and decided to join the week-long retreat at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, NM. His group of 14, which included people in their 50s to 80s, spent several days in spiritual practices, exercises and discussions.
For his culminating ritual, called a ‘solo trip’, Mr. Govaars chose a private spot on a riverbank. After passing through a portal formed by two trees (and having a brief encounter with a bobcat), he fasted, kept quiet, read poetry, kept a journal, and wrote “legacy letters” for his two children. “I just spent a lot of time thinking and meditating,” he said, deeply moved by the experience.
“Hopefully the result is a greater sense of happiness and purpose,” he explained. “I feel calmer. I feel much more introverted. I listen with an open heart and mind. I may look the same, but I’m different.”
In addition to helping people see old age as a life stage with purpose and rewards, along with its more widely recognized challenges and shortcomings, rituals for older adults can influence others, Ms Leardi noted.