Sharing stories - key to our spirituality as we age
Updated: Jul 14
Sharing stories of spirituality in ageing is a growing and fascinating discipline. Research is continuing to establish the extent to which telling and hearing one another's stories helps communities as well as being a powerful tool for individual growth and well-being.
Catherina Norberg in Sweden, for example, has documented her work with older people from a wide age range and entitled it: Something Wonderful and Incomprehensible: Expressions and experiences of spirituality among very old people.
Her study involved a dozen men and women aged 86 to 99. The participants had declared an interest in spirituality and were interviewed in their own homes. The interviews were analysed using qualitative content analysis.
The findings revealed that spirituality was experienced as being 'in communion, transcending life’s circumstances, and living in a spiritual reality'. Spirituality was expressed 'as an inner sense of communion with God and with other people, and as a spiritual reality.'
An uncommon topic
The participants expressed a desire to talk about spiritual experiences and personal beliefs but did regard spirituality as 'an uncommon topic.' Catherina's paper urges nurses and other professionals 'to be aware of spiritual needs' and be 'prepared to give spiritual care'.
Topics for the interview were the older people's interpretation of the concept of spirituality, spiritual development from childhood to old age, and situations of connectedness to a higher power. The interview started with some information about the aim of the study. The opening question was: ‘Please, can you tell me how you perceive spirituality?’
Mortality, a natural part of life
The interviewees 'expressed a feeling of being in communion with God, with other people in society, and with those no longer alive. However, they found spirituality difficult to talk about and hesitated to share their spiritual thoughts and experiences with others. They expressed a sense of transcending life’s circumstances by narrating a situation that had harmed them and how they had learned to take one day at a time and accept life the way it is. They also talked about mortality as a natural part of life. The participants expressed an awareness of a spiritual reality and described experiences that had strengthened their belief in God, while not always being clear about God’s characteristics.'
Professionals need to give space for spirituality
In summing up, Catherina said, 'Very old people face challenges associated with ageing, and spirituality has been identified as a resource for adapting to and dealing with life challenges. The life-situations and experiences of very old people have been studied from various perspectives; however, less is known about the experience and ways of expressing spirituality among the very old (85 years and older). In order to help older people in their spiritual development, professionals need to recognise and give space for spirituality. To recognise spiritual needs, professionals need to understand how very old people experience and express spirituality. Therefore, this study aims to illuminate very old people’s experiences and expressions of spirituality.'