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The Leveson Centre for the study of Ageing, Spirituality and Social Policy
Journeying through Old Age and Illness

Journeying through Old Age and Illness

Leo E Missinne WP Professor of Gerontology, University of Nebraska
Published by the Leveson Centre for the Study of Ageing, Spirituality and Social Policy, 2004, 22 pages price £5.00 (inc. p & p). order now

Two reviews of Leveson Paper Number 10
by: Yvonne Chapman and Leslie Houlden

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I couldn’t put it down. This is a paper to be recommended to all engaged in any of the caring professions, not least to those who work with older people in our society. In fact it is for all on our journey through life.

Leo Missinne has given us a profound and practical view of the whole landscape of our human journey as one that inevitably involves us in suffering, from the moment of birth even to old age and death itself. But this is no sad or depressing view. He says, ‘To dream of a life without suffering is to forget that suffering has always been part and parcel of human existence’ and, ‘if humanity no longer has the capacity to suffer, all that is left is a narrow path with few chances of knowing what being a human really means.’

This opens the way for a consideration of suffering in its many forms, its interaction in body, mind and spirit, the negative and positive results that can occur and the essential place of sharing our own and another’s suffering even if it be in the simple, silent presence of just being there.

Missinne meditates on the profound Christian belief and experience that the way of suffering, of diminishment, can be liberating, for it can be an entering into the Way of Christ. The darkness of pain and despair that we may see in others or know in ourselves brings us to the foot of the cross. Here is the mystery of the Christian faith, that in the surrendering of life, even to death, there is the discovery of life in all its fullness. This is no mere theory. Missinne draws on examples of the way human beings can rise above intense loss and pain and in their brokenness become a source of inspiration and growth in wholeness of being – for themselves and for those who are touched by them.

While I began to read with expectations of getting straight to the challenges of old age, I recognised the intention of Missinne in using the first half of his paper to help us to see suffering as an integral part of the whole of our life. To cope with the process of ageing becomes easier if we have served a long apprenticeship in the experience and acceptance of suffering. The second half focuses on ageing itself: every individual will face this in a different way, depending on their own life’s journey, beliefs and attitudes.

Those who care for ageing people with their particular experience of loss and diminishment will find a depth of understanding and practical ideas that can only enrich their work and encourage them in it. The ‘waiting’ at the end of life, the ‘meaning of past, present and future’, ‘catching the hidden meaning of words’, and especially ‘taking care of the Carers’ are just some of the topics which he explores. Behind all of his writing Missinne draws us deeper into the mystery of life and the heart of the compassionate God who calls us to follow in his way. We are fortunate to have so much given in so accessible a reading.

Yvonne Chapman (Anglican priest and a member of the Executive Committee of the Christian Council on Ageing)

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Professor Leo Missinne's Leveson Paper makes a rich contribution to the studies to which the Leveson Centre is dedicated. It covers a broad canvas and addresses the situations and needs of many different groups, so many in fact that only those who truly feel no difficulty in suffering or no response to it are excluded. Some of us play the roles described one at a time in the course of our lives, others are so placed that their lives are multi-faceted, and all the more problematic (or truly rich?) as a result.

The Paper opens with a meditative consideration of suffering in all its universality and diversity, and in its many styles and degrees. We consider the virtues to be found in suffering, virtues which may indeed never surface in a particular life without the situation of suffering. So suffering can be the necessary occasion of good. We see this put, briefly, in the context of the Christian tradition (to which it is of course central), but mostly we have devout wisdom, meditatively presented.

We turn to the specific trials, characteristics and opportunities of ageing and old age itself; and finally (and usefully) to the attitudes necessary for the effective care of the elderly. Here there is much imaginative and useful insight, highlighting best practice.

It is a Paper which pauses to express what is a way we all know but are rarely in a position to stop and explore.

Leslie Houlden

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