Transitional Keys: Easing the Turning Points in Older Life

Article excerpt

Aging is about change, a change experienced all too often as loss in American culture. People feel change as loss especially when few socially sanctioned rituals mark the larger transitions people experience as they age and change. Andrea Sherman and Marsha Weiner have set about to alter this predicament.

In their new book, Transitional Keys, A Guidebook: Rituals to Improve Quality of Life for Older Adults, published by their nonprofit organization, Transitional Keys, the pair of educators have developed a curriculum to help professionals use ritual to ease the life-cycle transitions that can be so overwhelming for older adults and their families. The Transitional Keys technique, which brings ritual for elders into a variety of caregiving settings, can be used by family members as well as by caregivers.

Noting that the guidebook was inspired by the work of the late anthropologist Barbara Myerhoff, who identified the value of ritual in older age, Sherman explains that there are many socially accepted rituals for the first half of life but too few for the second half: "At a time when we could use them, we don't have them. In the first half we have pregnancy, birth, christenings, weddings. What is there between retirement and funerals for an elder? Not much. There are so many traumatic events, and no way to acknowledge them. Yet there are so many turning points: menopause, retirement, losing a driver's license, moving into a different living situation, losing a spouse, losing friends-it's huge."

Transitional Keys grew from an exploration of how the transformative power of ritual could benefit elders. Sherman and Weiner, who have backgrounds in modern dance-which has rituals of preparation, concentration and training-developed an instructional program that helps people caring for elders build opportunities for celebrating and honoring life experience, both loves and losses. The book divides rituals into celebrations, turning points and loss. The program encompasses learning about ritual tools and techniques, "how you do it and what you need to do it," said Sherman, who is project director for the Consortium of New York Geriatric Education Centers at New York University, Division of Nursing. …