Finding courage and resilience through spirituality

Spiritual caregivers from across the long-term care, retirement and acute care sectors, along with clergy, older adults and community members, came together at Conrad Grebel University College for “Aging and Spirituality: Finding Courage and Resilience” – a two-day retreat hosted in part by the RIA.

The theme of the retreat was reflected in the unique session topics, focused on issues including dementia, caregiving, illness and mortality.

As guests arrived, the welcoming setup of the room – chairs grouped in intimate semi-circles instead of classroom-style rows – set the collaborative tone for the days ahead. As seats filled, the polite chatter of strangers quickly turned to friendly conversations between acquaintances.

Before the sessions began, guests were asked to discuss their reasons for attending, and they spoke candidly on serious topics – sharing personal experiences and stories on what had brought them to the retreat.

Jane Kuepfer, RIA’s Schlegel Specialist in Spirituality and Aging, led sessions focused on spiritual resources for aging, illness and dying. During these sessions, Kuepfer challenged participants to identify the gaps in their spiritual resources – meaning those pieces needed to sustain your personal spirituality. This is essential, she says, because spirituality can help sustain people who work in this sphere.  “It’s important to recognize it’s hard and you need courage and resilience.”

A spiritual caregiver’s role includes dealing with difficult situations and tough topics, including illness and death, but as is common in caregiving roles, these individuals often do not allow themselves to address their personal needs. A session led by Celia McBride, a multi-disciplinary artist and spiritual director, focused on self-care for the caregiver, challenging the feelings of guilt and lack of self-worth that caregivers often feel when they take time away for themselves. McBride says making time for self-care is one of the ways we build resilience.

According to Kuepfer, it was clear on day two that thought processes evolved, questions arose, and ideas percolated in conversations. “The collaborative, participatory nature of the retreat allowed guests to connect on a deeper level – building connections as they shared personal experiences on tough topics,” she says.

In this collaborative exploration of spirituality, aging and self-reflection, guests were challenged to look beyond their roles as spiritual care providers and look inward to their own spirituality to consider how our spiritual needs change as we age.