Category Archives: Emotional Care

Aging with Peace

“I am learning to offer to God my days and my nights, my joy, my work, my pain and my grief…I am learning to use the time I have more wisely…And I am learning to forget at times my puritan conscience which prods me to work without ceasing, and instead, to take time for joy.”
Elizabeth Watson, 1979 PYM Faith and Practice

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Sexuality in Mid and Late Life

“In our personal lives, Friends seek to ackowledge and nurture sexuality as a gift from God for celebrating human love with joy and intimacy…Learning to incorporate sexuality in our lives responsibly, joyfully, and with integrity should be a lifelong process beginning in childhood.”
PYM Faith and Practice, 2002.

Sexuality in Mid and Late Life:
Excerpts from Older, Wiser, Sexually Smarter
By Peggy Brick

The sexual scripts most of us learned as children are painfully inadequate for our lives as older adults. These scripts, instructing each of us how to think, feel, and act as male or female persons, commonly focus on the reproductive function of sex, define sex as penetrative intercourse only, stereotype gender roles, portray sex as for the young, discount gay, lesbian and bisexual persons, and generally discourage positive sexual attitudes. Such scripts need to be challenged.

In addition, many life changes require people to develop new expectations for their sexual lives. Loss of a partner through death or divorce, a variety of illnesses and disabilities, newrelationships, even the attitudes of one’s own children may require a new view of oneself as a sexual person.

Other barriers to older adults seeking sexual health and happiness are the current commercialization and the “medicalization” of sex, both of which promote quick (and expensive!) “solutions” to often complex interpersonal problems. An overwhelming array of “cures” tempt us: plastic surgery makeovers promise to correct every imperfection from wrinkles to “vulval unsightliness”; pills and a wild variety of penis enhancements guarantee larger, stronger, more powerful erections; an ever-more-exciting plethora of sex toys assure bigger, better orgasms; widely advertised videos assure us of “better sex for a lifetime.” Sexuality education aims to help people evaluate all the messages they receive from the media, advertisers, and pharmaceutical companies and then discover for themselves what can really enhance their sexual lives.

The following principles from Older Wiser, Sexually Smarter offer guidance for a healthy approach to sexuality and sexuality education in older adulthood :

Principles About Sexuality in Mid and Late Life

  1. Sexuality is a positive, life-affirming force. A positive approach to sexuality means acknowledging the pleasures, not just the dangers of sex.
  2. Older adults deserve respect. This respect includes an appreciation for individual sexual histories and the current stage of a person’s sexual journey.
  3. Older adults are not all alike. Older adults vary in their comfort with sexual language, in the discussion of sexual topics, and in participating in learning activities related to sexuality.
  4. Forget the cliche about “old dogs and new tricks”. Older adults are capable of writing new sexual scripts that can invigorate their sexual journeys. Sex is more than sexual intercourse, and there are many ways to be sexual without penetrative sex. Avoid the word “sex” whenever possible because of its vague meaning —when talking about intercourse, use the word “intercourse.”
  5. Older adults learn from each other. Older adults have many “lessons” to share and learn from each other. Discussing ideas with peers helps people take responsibility for their own learning.
  6. Older adults deserve accurate and explicit information, and also additional resources for discovery. Most people in this culture have lived with the message that sexuality is mysterious, secret, and shameful. Having access to the facts and a chance to talk openly helps people overcome those negative messages.
  7. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals must be acknowledged, respected, and included in discussions. Participants in your audience will likely mirror society, and therefore have a variety of sexual orientations and gender identities. Acknowledging all sexual orientations and identities can help make sure all participants feel included.
  8. Flexible gender role behavior is fundamental to personal and sexual health. Strict adherence to traditional gender roles and stereotypes limits individuals’ potential as human beings.
  9. Make no assumptions! Avoid making assumptions about the sexual behaviors or sexual orientations of participants in your sessions. Some may be currently involved in sexual activities, others may not. Some may be married or in relationships, others may not.

About Older, Wiser, Sexually Smarter:

In 2003 Jan Lunquist and I created a teaching manual, New Expectations: Sexuality Education for Mid and Later Life, providing educators with 25 field-tested lessons for older adults. It aimed to help people “celebrate sexuality from birth until death.” Six years later, informed by many workshops, trainings, new resources and research reports, we have developed this completely revised (and renamed) second edition. It is greatly enhanced by the work of our two new authors, Bill Tavemer and Allyson Sandak, and by creative lessons from a number of new educators.

Our lessons encourage participants to identify the issues that confront them, re-think their old scripts, and consider how to create new and positive ways of being sexual as they age. Older, Wiser, Sexually Smarter updates and expands all the lessons, includes three useful timelines, and adds lessons that address additional concerns including: intimacy and communication issues; masturbation; body image; spirituality; cyber sex, and how to talk about sex with your Physician.

Older, Wiser, Sexually Smarter (Copyright 2009) is available through:
The Center for Family Life Education
Planned Parenthood of Greater Northern New Jersey, Inc.
196 Speedwell Avenue
Morristown, NJ 07960
(973) 539-9580
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LINKS TO MORE INFORMATION: Click on the blue text below to be directed to outside websites that offer additional information on this topic. The websites will open in a new window, when you are done, simply click out of that window and you will be back on this site.

Widener College Sexuality and Aging website

Friends Meetings in New York and Philadelphia Yearly Meetings may call your Yearly Meeting office if you are interested in a workshop on Sexuality and Aging. Contact us here


“Our life is love, peace and tenderness; and bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations against one another; but praying for one another, and helping one another up with a tender hand.”
Isaac Penington, 1667, Quoted in PYM Faith and Practice, 2002

When I was a child, it was clear that my parents, aunts, and uncles related to Uncle Douglas differently than the way they were with the rest of the adults in the family. He lived above my aunt in a quiet apartment with the blinds drawn, took his meals at the same Howard Johnson’s every day, and had no apparent hobbies except collecting religious dolls. Uncle Douglas it seemed had come from nowhere—there were no tidbits of his childhood or stories of his youthful foibles. He was rarely included in joking banter, and conversations lasted only as long as it would take to answer, “How are you?” Uncle Douglas was tolerated, his physical needs were met, but no one seemed to know how to support or express their love for him.

When I became old enough to notice, and brave enough to ask, I was told that Uncle Douglas had suffered a “nervous breakdown” and had not been the same since. Later I learned that he had been a successful radio disc jockey and dated a red-haired actor, but “something happened” and he was sent to an institution where he received some form of treatment. Eventually the relatives opened up, “You’d never believe what he was like back then!” He was dashing—a skilled dancer, dedicated connoisseur of 20’s and 30’s swing music.

No could name what happened to Uncle Douglas as anything other than a “nervous breakdown.” My mother felt that being in the institution did him in; my aunt blamed laziness and said in any case that he just stopped trying. These were hushed back room conversations, not to leave the family, and no one ever discussed Uncle Douglas with Uncle Douglas himself.

Today, we have words that identify various mental illnesses and a bit more willingness to talk about emotional or behavioral health the same way we might discuss diabetes or stroke. We may be willing to accept that mental illness is hereditary or has roots in brain makeup or body chemistry. Nevertheless, have we truly lost our fear and moved from tolerance, to engaged support for those with behavioral or emotional health challenges?

Consider this, from an online community newspaper:
“The…Museum will host a special lecture, ‘The Treatment of Mental Illness: A Historical Perspective’ to ‘explore how attitudes about mental illness and care have changed in the past 200 years,’ according to a statement released by the…board of trustees. It will be held early next year.
The announcement was made in the wake of objections made by some mental health advocates to the ‘Asylum of Terror,’ a haunted house staged as part of the museum’s annual fundraising event. Material promoting the Haunted Mill promised, ‘Dementia, paranoia, violent sociopathic behaviors… these are but a few of the afflictions that torment the wretched souls’ of the asylum.”

Kudos to the museum for hosting the lecture in response to the public outcry, and to those who spoke up, but one must wonder, have attitudes changes that much in 200 years if such an event theme were not questioned to begin with? In talking with Friends about their fears surrounding aging, I have often heard it said, “I can accept anything, as long as I have my mind.” With such pervasive stigma associated with behavioral health differences, no wonder we fear that more than anything else does!

Q: “Is our Meeting supportive and loving toward persons among us who may be struggling with mental illness?”
What can we do as a spiritual community to create a more loving and accepting environment, so that people can feel safe in seeking support when they are facing mental health issues? What is our role in advocating for those with emotional or behavioral challenges?

  • Educate. Stigma is best reduced by knowledge. Seek learning opportunities for your community to provide truthful information about mental illness. See additional articles in our Learning Center for factual information that may challenge common assumptions, as well as the list of further resources.
  • Check your own feelings. Try to understand one’s own assumptions and fears. Exploring how your life experiences and what you have been taught might be affecting your feelings can help you overcome your own resistance and be a better support to others in need.
  • When you feel your attitude is genuinely open, make it known. Be willing to talk. If you have experiences of your own to share, speak openly if you can.
  • Let others know you are concerned. Speak gently, with honesty and integrity. Offer facts and unconditional support, and listen, do not lecture.
  • Know what professional resources are available in your area and be prepared to provide that information. Offer transportation and/or additional support as needed.
  • Your spiritual community probably provides meals for people after the birth of a child, a death in the family, illness or surgery. Have you thought about the same for someone who is struggling with behavioral or emotional health? It may be hard, for example, for someone who is depressed to express gratitude or feel joy, but these gestures from the spiritual community remind us that we are cared for, and loved.

“And thou, faithful babe, though thou stutter and stammer forth a few words in the dread of the Lord, they are accepted.”
William Dewsbury, 1660, Quoted in PYM Faith and Practice, 2002

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LINKS TO MORE INFORMATION: Click on the blue text below to be directed to outside websites that offer additional information on this topic. Articles from this site will open in the same browser window/tab. Articles from other websites will open in a new window; when you are done, simply click out of that window and you will be back on this site.

More articles on this website:

Anxiety and Change
Care of the Caregiver
Spiritual Approach to Dementia Care

Sources/Further Reading:

Edited by Patricia McBee, Grounded in God, Care and Nurture in Friends Meeting, Philadelphia, Quaker Press of FGC, 2002

Clinton Reed, “Red Mill Museum in Clinton responds to critics of its ‘Haunted Mill,’ plans special program”, Hunterdon County Democrat, November 13, 2009, read article online


Q: How does our community support people who are overwhelmed by emotional challenges?

Q: Am I a listening, caring presence for others when they are experiencing troubling times?

A Time of Loss and Change: depression is not a “normal part of aging” just as it is not a normal part of our development at any age. In older adulthood and at other times in our lives where we are facing loss, isolation or change, we may be at higher risk of depression. Loss of loved ones, roles, home or community ties, or physical changes can increase risk for depression. Men especially are more at risk for depression as they age, and suicide rates increase dramatically for men over 65, even more so for those with a history of depression.

Signs of depression include:

  • Sadness: grief as a natural response to loss is different from depression. Unexplained, unrelenting sadness or grief that never lets up is a sign of depression.
  • Expressions of Feelings of Loss of Self-Worth: a person may feel they are a burden, life has lost meaning, they cannot do things they were once able to do.
  • Withdrawal and Isolation: a person may avoid visits with friends, or avoid coming to Meeting.
  • Avoidance of Activities that were once loved: a person stops doing things that were once important to them.
  • Changes in Sleep Patterns: extreme fatigue, insomnia.
  • Changes in Appetite: usually weight loss, but some people may eat more to try to replace lost energy.
  • Fixation on Death, Suicidal Thoughts: consult a professional if a person expresses thoughts of suicide.
  • In older adults and others, depression may also manifest itself as hopelessness, helplessness, increased irritability, anxiety, forgetfulness, unexplained physical complaints. Symptoms such as confusion, forgetfulness, or paranoia may be similar to signs of dementia or other illness. A professional evaluation will help discern the root cause of the symptoms so that appropriate treatment can be determined.

“The remarkable discovery we can make is that love has not deserted us, and that it is available to us now in a new way.”
Margaret Torrie, 1975, PYM Faith and Practice

How can I help? A person with depression needs professional care. Friends can help by encouraging one to seek professional care and by being a caring presence.

Overwhelmed by symptoms of hopelessness and confusion, compounded by the stigma placed on mental illness, often a person who is depressed does not recognize their symptoms and cannot take action to get help. They may also feel ashamed or embarrassed. Let the person know they are accepted and supported, and learn about your local resources and refer to professionals.

  • Validate Feelings: respect and validate the person’s feelings. When a person’s feelings are validated, they feel valued. This contributes to healing and opens the doors for communication. See the Quaker Aging Resources article on Validation.
  • Walk Beside the Person: even if they say “I don’t want to,” let them know that you want to spend time together. If you are rejected, suggest another activity—visit pets, children, a garden. Walking and other exercise can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Mental health research shows that spiritual support, helping a person to find meaning and purpose, assists in recovery. Just listening goes a long way.
  • Don’t give up: continue to let the person know you care. Let go of expectations and understand it is the illness that is keeping the person from calling you back or taking you up on that potluck supper. Enlist the help of others and continue to encourage your Friend to accept professional help. Call your regional faith group office for assistance, especially if reluctance to seek care or accept medication is a concern.

Seek help immediately if thoughts of suicide are expressed or suspected.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

LINKS TO MORE INFORMATION: Click on the blue text below to be directed to outside websites that offer additional information on this topic. The websites will open in a new window, when you are done, simply click out of that window and you will be back on this site.

Other Articles/Links:

Counseling For Friends in Philadelphia Yearly Meetings
Helping Older Adults with Depression
Mental Health America 1-800-969-6642

Sources/Further Reading:

Edited by Patricia McBee, Grounded in God: Care and Nurture in Friends Meetings, Philadelphia, Quaker Press of FGC, order this book from

Deborah Morris Coryell, Good Grief, 2007, Healing Arts Press, Rochester, Vermont.

Rosalynn Carter, Helping Someone with Mental Illness,1999, Three Rivers Press, New York, NY.

Brian Quinn, The Depression Sourcebook, 2000, Lowell House. Los Angeles, CA.

Care of the Caregiver

“…the Latin root of the word “comfort” means ‘with strength’ rather than ‘at ease.’”
S. Jocelyn Burnell, 1989, Quoted in PYM Faith and Practice, 2002

S. Jocelyn Burnell made this observation in writing about pain, but it applies as well in considering the challenges of caregiving. Caring for another, whether because of physical illness, emotional, behavioral or cognitive challenges, is not easy. However, it can be an opportunity for personal growth and self-discovery. Through caregiving, one may discover one’s own gifts of compassion, patience, love and perseverance. However, even for the most joyful caregiver, there can be times of frustration and stress. Spiritual communities can be a vital resource for people facing the challenge of caring for a loved one. We can all benefit from understanding the signs of caregiver stress:

  • Feeling frustrated, irritable, angry, or sad, especially unrelenting
  • Changes in sleep pattern—having trouble falling asleep or not wanting to get out of bed
  • Increased or decreased appetite
  • Loss of interest in activities, withdrawal from friends and/or family
  • Getting sick more often than usual
  • Exhaustion
  • Making unreasonable demands on yourself—feeling you are the only one who can take care of the person
  • Feeling you want to hurt yourself or the person for whom you are caring

Some of these symptoms of caregiver stress are very similar to those of depression. A person who is overwhelmed taking care of others may not recognize that he or she needs help. Others may need to be attentive and take action to support the caregiver.

Q: How do we support caregivers who may be overwhelmed by the chronic needs and concerns of family and friends?

It is natural for the person in need of care to become the focus of a community’s concern. However, families and loved ones acting as caregivers may need spiritual and practical support just as much as the person who is ill. Here are some ways you can help caregivers:

  • Take a proactive approach to reaching out to caregivers. Often people will be hesitant to ask for help but will accept support if asked.
  • Be prepared to offer specific suggestions for how you can assist.
  • Offer individual support and a listening ear.
  • Provide Clearness Committees or other opportunities for discernment to assist families in making decisions about care, housing and other concerns. Remember that caregivers may be too busy or overwhelmed to think of this: make a point to remind people of the opportunity.
  • Help the caregiver with chores, meals, childcare, transportation, or any number of practical needs. This can give the caregiver a break, or provide peaceful time for them to be with their loved one without the burden of worrying about work undone.
  • Keep information on hand about local resources or where to find out more, such as your county Agency on Aging.

Download this article in pamphlet form

LINKS TO MORE INFORMATION: Click on the blue text below to be directed to outside websites that offer additional information on this topic. Articles from this site will open in the same browser window/tab. Articles from other websites will open in a new window; when you are done, simply click out of that window and you will be back on this site.

More articles on this website:


Other Articles/Links:

Children of Aging Parents
Caring Today
National Care Planning Council
When Siblings Step Up article from the Wall Street Journal

Sources/Further Reading:

Cappy Capossela and Sheila Warnock, Share the Care, 2004, Fireside, New York, NY

James E. Miller, When You’re the Caregiver, 1995, Willowgreen Publishing, Fort Wayne, Indiana.