Writing Letters

I can’t remember who introduced me to the book The Artist’s Way.  I know that it was at least a decade ago and I know that it’s a book I have pulled out and used on more than once occasion. The work of prolific author Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way is structured as a twelve-week series of exercises and prompts that help nurture and unlock the reader’s creative process.  Truth be told, despite trying at least twice, I have never made it all the way through.  I’ve gotten to week six or eight and then let life get in the way as it tends to do.

But this past weekend I had the opportunity to focus on The Artist’s Way from a different perspective.  Julia Cameron was presenting a weekend-long workshop and a very thoughtful person (aka my husband) gave me this experience as a gift.  I was excited, a little anxious but walked into the first session with no real expectations, just a desire to be open and learn.

I won’t go into the details of all the elements and exercises. There were four sessions that covered the weekend from Friday evening until noon on Sunday and each activity and exercise built on the activities and exercises that preceded it.  I didn’t fully realize the progression until I reflected on the whole.  It was a weekend of introspection and sharing, of greater self-awareness as well as connection with others.

One exercise stood out for me in light of the work that we do with elders.  Towards the end of the second day of the workshop, Julia instructed us to write two letters from, and to, ourselves. We wrote the first as our 8 year old self writing to who we are today and the second from our 80 year old self, again writing to who we are today.  It was both an enlightening and a somewhat emotional experience for everyone and when we shared the letters in small groups the next day, there were a lot of “ah ha” moments for people.

I’ve thought about these letters this week and I’ve specifically thought about the letter from our elder self to the person we are today.  I wondered what might happen if we sat down and did a similar exercise, from our 80+ year old self to the person we are today, specifically focusing on what we hope our life as an elder will look like.  We could write about the things that matter to us as an elder and what we hope our care partners will know and respect.  We could address family and friends and what their role is in our lives.  We could reflect on the way our life is as an elder and what our younger self needs to understand.

Of course we all know the old line that “if I had known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.”  Certainly that may be a part of what our elder self would say.  But I also think we’d have some insights into what our priorities are, what relationships matter to us, how we want to shape the years we have ahead of us.  And, even more so, I think it would inform the way we care for, and interact with, elders.

Looking at elders through a different lens and, even more so, putting ourselves into that role—perhaps there are some doors it will unlock for all of us.

About the Author
Carol Silver Elliott is President and CEO of The Jewish Home Family, which runs NJ's Jewish Home at Rockleigh, Jewish Home Assisted Living, Jewish Home Foundation and Jewish Home at Home. She joined The Jewish Home Family in 2014. Previously, she served as President and CEO of Cedar Village Retirement Community in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is chair-elect of LeadingAge and past chair of the Association of Jewish Aging Services.
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