Have Faith: Spiritual eldering

Rabbi Lori Shaller offers sessions called “Spiritual Eldering in Seven Sessions: Crafting the Last Third of Your Life” at the Unitarian Universalist Society in Vineyard Haven. - Connie Berry

Every other week, Connie Berry reports on the news, events, and people at Martha’s Vineyard’s various places of worship.

Talking about end-of-life issues isn’t something that comes easily for most of us, and with that in mind, Rabbi Lori Shaller offers “Spiritual Eldering in Seven Sessions: Crafting the Last Third of Your Life.” The sessions take place Mondays and will continue until Dec. 5, running from 6:30 to 8 pm at the Unitarian Universalist Society, 238 Main Street in Vineyard Haven.

“We often think about who is going to get our assets when we’re gone,” Ms. Shaller said. “We create a will, appoint a healthcare proxy in case we become incapacitated. But we don’t think about what it is that we need to do to feel ready.”

She said that we tend to carry a lot of baggage, sometimes in the form of unfinished business.

“Sometimes people die before we can say thank you,” Ms. Shaller said.

In her own experience, Ms. Shaller told me she wrote a letter to a favorite teacher 30 years after taking her course in graduate school. The class was Jewish history, and it ended up serving as a “framework and a compass” for Ms. Shaller. “She wrote back to say how grateful she was.”

Sometimes while we’re taking meticulous care about what antique vase to leave which granddaughter, we don’t pause to think about what kind of a spiritual legacy we leave behind.

“It’s about being deliberate, asking what is it that I want to leave,” Ms. Shaller said. “This series is about tying up loose ends. It is emotionally difficult, but when it’s done, we will feel lighter.”

Ms. Shaller talked about “putting things on hold,” about the acting class or the knitting group or the college course we didn’t get the opportunity to finish, because life got in the way. “We aren’t always able to do the things that feed us,” she said. By the time people reach the final third of their lives, they are better able to make the time to address those things that slipped away.

Ms. Shaller explained that the elders on the Island have so much to contribute to the community. “People don’t always realize that they have skills and wisdom that can be harvested for the rest of the community. The last third of our lives is about tying things together, actualizing ourselves as the full human beings that we are.”

Some of the ideas she hopes to discuss in the sessions include being deliberate about what it is that you are doing in the world, how are you relating to others, how you will live your life in sync with the values you believe in, and considering how your conscience is going to feel at the end of your life.

“In the end, people will remember words that you said and the things that you did, not how much money you had,” Ms. Shaller said.

As sad and depressing as it is to think of the end of your life, Ms. Shaller said that it makes things a lot easier for everyone if they know what your wishes are before something catastrophic happens.

Ms. Shaller suggests that we can do things more intentionally as we grow older: “I can take control of this part of my life; I’m not done. Even at death, life is still unfolding, and I want it to be rich and meaningful, and I can make that happen.”


The Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center will show the film “Rabin in His Own Words” at 4 pm Sunday, Nov. 6. The event is free, and all are encouraged to bring a friend.


The Hebrew Center also hosts November’s Neighborhood Convention on Tuesday, Nov. 1, from 11 am to 1 pm. This month’s topic is “Houses of Grace and Those Who Serve.” All are invited to come and to bring a bag lunch; beverage and dessert are provided.


Woody Bowman reports that the CROP Walk was well attended on Sunday, “with 120 or so walkers, sunshine and very strong winds, a particularly large proportion of youth participation, several Brazilian congregations joining in for the first time, and roughly $15,000 in hand already.” We’ll hear more after he tallies everything. Sounds like a success!

If you have news for “Have Faith,” email it to connie.berry12@gmail.com.