The journey of aging is different for each of us, but no matter our path, the joys and challenges of getting older give us all a wonderful opportunity to keep growing emotionally and spiritually.”            

~Sister Janet Schaeffler, OP, Author & Senior Adult Formation Authority

When we reach our 60s, 70s or 80s, we look back on our life and it seems that the years flew by much too quickly—we are like Rip Van Winkle who fell asleep and woke up years later as a much older person.

Many older adults struggle with another common concern—the realization that we have a limited amount of time to address all those things we need to do before we leave this life.

As I reflected on my own life experiences, I searched for a source of direction that I could follow to ensure that I identified all of the things I had to plan for and address. We all have to be prepared to deal with the many practical and spiritual needs associated with aging.

As I pondered the next step, I got a call from Sister Janet Schaeffler, OP who sent a draft of her new book, “Let This Be the Time: Spiritual Essentials for Life’s Second Act”. Sister Janet is a fantastic resource since she has devoted much of her recent work helping aging adults deal with challenges and opportunities in the second half of life. She is an author of numerous books, hundreds of articles, teacher, retreat leader, advisor, consultant, presenter and member of several national adult formation organizations. In short, she is an extraordinary gift for older adults.

If the name sounds familiar, Sister Janet was the featured presenter in the webinar we produced last year entitled, “Meeting the Needs of Older Adults”.

Sister Janet asked if I would preview her book prior to publication. I read the draft and for me it was a bright light illuminating the areas that I was trying to address. It was almost as if she had me in mind when she identified twelve needs that we aging adults must reflect on and incorporate into our aging plan.

Let This Be the Time is the “right book” at “the right time”. She expands on the twelve needs of the “eldering”—a term she uses to identify older adults who have a vital need to better understand the aging process.

It would take more than this brief article to do justice to the twelve needs. I will focus on two needs that resonated very strongly with me personally.

The book is beautifully written, illustrated and packed full of personal quotes and comments from dozens of eldering adults. A unique feature of the book is a section at the end of each chapter called, “To Ponder, Wonder and Converse” that raises a series of questions designed to help the reader confirm where they stand with each of the needs. It is very thought provoking and valuable.

The first chapter that caught my attention was the need to “live a life of meaning and purpose”. I experienced the exact same symptoms she describes when I retired. Here is what she wrote, “When things change—when children don’t need as much care from us, when we retire from a fulfilling career—it is only natural to ask: Who am I now? Where do I belong? Am I still worthwhile and valued? If I’m not productive, not industrious, not responsible for others, not engaged in many things, what is my role? This transition from eventful doing to more tranquil being (which often is an immense transition) may elicit feelings of gloom and depression.”

I thought the perfect retirement was playing golf, traveling and waking up each day with no pressure to do anything. After a few months, I was bored and began to experience an unexplainable depression. Retirement is supposed to be a happy experience and I could not understand my feelings. I was accustomed to doing things, being active and engaged. I missed the excitement of the business arena. I also realized that I had slipped into the bad habit of taking my faith for granted.

If I had Sister Janet’s book back then, my quest would have been easier and quicker. The solution for me was to go back to work. God directed me to the Archdiocese and eventually into the need to help create a much-needed senior adult ministry.

My life now has much more meaning and purpose.

The second need that really resonated with me was chapter five, the need to “cope with losses”. Our family has struggled to find meaning since the loss of two of our adult sons. We have learned that a parent never gets over the loss of a child, regardless of age.

Here is what Sister Janet says about loss, “In all life, at some point, an inevitable loss or a chosen loss will enter our lives, and we’ll know that we can’t respond to it with the same skills and strengths we’ve usually used. We will realize that we cannot fix, control, explain, change, or even understand the loss. As in most human realities, there will be a wide spectrum of feelings and responses among people; response to loss is personal and unique.”

These consoling words have helped us to put our loss into perspective. Although we miss our sons tremendously, we are comforted with the knowledge that the purpose of this life is to love and serve God and neighbor and do whatever we can to receive the gift of eternal salvation. We believe firmly that our sons fulfilled their earthly mission and are resting comfortably in the bosom of the Lord.

Another feature of the book is the view that aging adults can and do make extraordinary contributions to their family, their parish, community and nation. The gift of wisdom is a very powerful resource that should be utilized and not put on the shelf.

Every one of the twelve needs are highly important for all older adults. My suggestion is this: Let This Be the Time…to ponder this excellent book!                    (Available on Amazon)

The Senior Side column is written by William L. Clarke, former business executive, professor and senior citizen. He serves as the Associate Director, Senior Adult Ministry for the Office of Formation and Discipleship.

Mary M. Cohen, Consultant in Senior Adult Ministry contributed to this article.

If you are new to the “Senior Side” column, you can read past columns in the Georgia Bulletin, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Click on “Commentary”, then on “Bill Clarke”


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