Finding Faith at a Senior Living Facility

Each fall, the air turns cold, leaves fall off the trees and many families cheerfully begin making plans for the upcoming holiday season. But for older adults contemplating a move to a senior living community, the holidays bring mixed emotions. Thoughts of leaving one’s familiar surroundings, including one’s place of worship, may be scary.

However, for Elise Higgins, 89, leaving her lifelong church in Locust Valley, New York, was not a problem. “God follows wherever you go,” says the friendly, astute thinker, who now lives at Drake Terrace Retirement Community, a Kisco Senior Living facility in beautiful San Rafael, California.

With prodding from her children, Higgins relocated five years ago in order to live closer to her daughter, Cindy Roby. The decision was not easy, Higgins recalls. After contemplating the long-distance move for a year, Higgins awoke one day comfortable with her decision.

Senior Living Communities Provide Opportunities to Worship and Grow Spiritually

Living at Drake Terrace is delightful, Higgins says, including the friendly staff, pleasant companions, delicious food, sunny apartment, and her ability to worship and grow spiritually. Every Sunday, Drake Terrace’s convenient, handicap-accessible transportation allows Higgins and other residents to attend church services. Higgins worships at nearby St. Isabella Catholic Church, where she says she made an immediate adjustment.

Higgins, often accompanied by residents Joe Giacomini, 89, and Irene Zemanek, RN, 85, are grateful their health allows them to attend off-site worship. However, for residents unable to leave the senior living facility, Christian and Jewish services occur on site. Clergy regularly perform group worship and personally visit apartments of requesting residents.

In addition, Giacomini, who “carries God in his heart wherever he goes,” studied at St. Isabella’s. At 88 years old, he became a Eucharistic Minister, one who conducts services and delivers communion. “This is one of the most rewarding things I’ve done,” says the former WWII US Navy aviation machinist-mate, who served on the most decorated WWII war ship, the USS Natrona Bay.

Celebrating Religious Traditions

At Drake Terrace, religious and secular holidays are friendly, fun events shared with companions and staff, says Zemanek. Religious celebrations include delicious meals, lovely decorations, tree-lighting ceremonies, Hanukkah parties, Easter Egg Hunts and Passover celebrations. For Zemanek, the positive energy she feels from her Tai Chi classes enhances her spiritual growth. “I always carry God in my heart,” she says.

“New residents arrive at Drake Terrace with a history and attachment to particular beliefs,” comments David Knepler, the community’s sales co-director. “Many new residents fear what they are losing, such as familiar places of worship. Providing continued spiritual practice offers a safety net, with friends and fellowship.”

In addition, Knepler notes that prior to moving to a senior living community, transportation may be a problem. With this barrier eliminated, many seniors experience spiritual and religious rebirth.

Incorporating Spirituality Into Senior Living

Kisco’s 19 senior living communities in six states practice the “Art of Living Well,” promoting six dimensions of wellness: emotional, intellectual, physical, social, spiritual and vocational. Some of the spiritual dimension activities include First Friday Mass, Communion, church services, Sabbath services and visits by Jewish Family Services.

Once the holiday lights dim, many seniors living in their long-time surroundings will return to thoughts of relocating to a senior living community. Kisco’s Art of Living, including religious observance, provides a useful guideline: “Wellness is a life-growth process that embodies the philosophy of holistic health: it is the integration of the mind, body and spirit through life’s journey.”

Searching for Faith-Based Communities

While most retirement communities cater to seniors of all faiths, those in search of a more singularly focused senior living community can find Christian Retirement Communities or Jewish Retirement Communities on these pages.

Written by Joan London, a freelance writer from Baltimore, who lives in a 55+ condominium with Mia, her sweet Russian Blue rescue cat.