Older generations are reclaiming rites of passage

Nancy Rhine, a gerontologist and marriage and family therapist in Mill Valley, Calif., helped about 40 seniors prepare for and process end-of-life rituals involving hours of retrospection and introspection, art and music . “They’re looking at legacy, looking at life, taking stock,” she said. “It is this research, a contemplative practice.” His oldest client was 81 years old.

This spring, Kris Govaars turned 70 and was still mourning his wife, Vicki Govaars, who died in 2019, just weeks after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. “I was a loose boat,” Mr. Govaars, a former Bay Area architectural consultant, said. “I was struggling, trying to figure out my next steps.”

I fell on Center for Conscious Agingfounded by Ron Pevny, author of “Conscious Living, Conscious Aging,” and decided to join his week-long retreat at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, NM His group of 14, which included people in their 50s to 80s, spent several days to engage in spiritual practices, exercises and discussions.

For his culminating ritual, called a “solo trip,” Mr. Govaars chose a private spot by a river. After passing through a portal formed by two trees (and encountering a bobcat up close), he fasted, kept silent, read poetry, kept a journal, and wrote “legacy letters” for his two children. “I just spent a lot of time thinking and meditating,” he said, deeply moved by the experience.

“I hope the result is a greater sense of happiness and purpose,” I explained. “I feel calmer. I feel a lot more introspective. I listen with an open heart and mind. I may be alike, but I’m different.

In addition to helping people see old age as a phase of life with purpose and rewards, as well as the most commonly recognized challenges and deficits, rituals for older people can affect others, Ms. Leardi pointed out.