By Beth Bolthouse, MA, LPC, Bereavement Counselor for the Scolnik Healing Center of Harbor Hospice
Last year I turned 60, which came as quite a shock, to be honest, because in my mind I’m still an energetic, fun-loving 20-something. Of course there were hints leading up to this birthday that I’m not as young as I used to be. For one thing, my bones hurt. Especially when the weather does certain things. It’s amazing how much more accurate bones are than most meteorologists. For another, at times it’s a struggle remembering words for common things – such as, well, you know, that thing you use when you open your car door and then you put it into the slot so your car starts – oh yeah KEY! That thing.
Realizing there may only be 20 (possibly 30) years left caused me to step back and reflect on who I am now, and what the rest of my life looks like.
Sociologist Lars Tornstam developed the theory of “Gerotranscendence” to describe the final stage of maturation development. Based on two terms, “gero” meaning aging, and “transcendent” meaning rising above, Tornstam’s research found that elders who engage in positive aging have some distinct characteristics, including:
- Less self-centeredness and materialism
- Greater desire to find inner peace and experience positive solitude
- Less interest in prestige, social roles, and superficial socializing
- More concern for others
- More spontaneity, tolerance and acceptance
- Emphasis on altruism and volunteering
- Finding joy in small or insignificant things
- Feeling more connected with past and future generations
- Realizing the larger role one plays throughout history
- Reduced fear of death (even if there is some apprehension about the dying process itself)
- More intentional about choices; choosing to remain active, productive, independently engaging in more meaningful activities (art, nature, music, etc.).
Positive aging is about making choices that provide opportunities to live life on purpose, including what end of life might look like. Having advance directives in place or other legal documents to ensure that our family members know our desires ahead of time can be empowering and free us up to focus on life rather than death.
Perhaps gerotranscendence can be summed up as follows: “This isn’t your grandpa’s old age!” Growing old does not mean we have to live the stereotypical old age of the past. Rather, today there are opportunities to age with dignity and live the rest of our life on our terms. The images of Mr. Wilson and Fred Sanford are being replaced more frequently by those of Blanche, Dorothy, Rose and Sophia. Perhaps it could be said that gerotranscendence is the secret that turned those frail grumpy old people in Cocoon into vibrant thriving older people with purpose and joy for living life intentionally.
Positive aging is here for you and for me, in spite of bones and that word that we just can’t quite put our finger on! It only requires intentionality about living out the rest of our lives.
Tornstam, L. (2005). Gerotranscendence: A developmental theory of positive aging. New York, NY: Springer Pub. Co.
About the author
Beth Bolthouse, a Bereavement Counselor for the Scolnik Healing Center of Harbor Hospice has been in her counseling profession for 15 years. Currently obtaining her Master of Science in Thanatology at Marian University, she is an avid lover of her dogs, the arts, and West Michigan.
Harbor Hospice serving the West Michigan lakeshore. Their agency has provided hospice care and support programs to residents in a five-county area for over 35 years.