“Nothing can dim the light which shines from within.”
Dr. Richard Morgan has done it again! At almost 92 he has given us a moving and masterful book in which he shares insights, wisdom, and resilience gleaned from a life lived fully and generously. Light of Setting Suns: Reflections on Realities and Mysteries at Ninety Years of Life, while written by one of our “oldest old,” is a book for all ages that is ripe with personal stories and lessons to help each of us age gracefully.
Richard has spent his life serving others as a pastor, educator, mentor, support group leader, dementia advocate, pioneering author on spirituality and aging, chaplain, and, most important, as a friend. In Light of Setting Suns, he speaks to us as a friend.
Topics of aging are not always easy to discuss. Growing old can bring diminished capacities, increasing frailty, illness, difficult relocations, and loss of cherished family and friends. Facing any one of these challenges during a global pandemic adds an almost unimaginable layer of hardship. But despite these powerful influences, Richard shows that with intention, prayer, and courage, “it is also possible to shine with the Spirit, and make these years full of meaning and of hope.”
Richard began writing Light of Setting Suns in the summer of 2019 from the comfort of his apartment in a senior care community where he and his wife, Alice Ann, had lived for 17 years. While production of the book was underway, a major disruption occurred in June 2020. In the span of one short week, Alice Ann was hospitalized for severe back pain and Richard found himself packing their apartment for a move across town that would provide them with greater care. He had 2½ days to pack what would fit into this much smaller space and to discard everything else. All of this during COVID, with painfully arthritic hands, and using a walker because neuropathy made him a serious fall risk.
“A mark of a spiritual person is to turn strangers into friends.”
—Richard L. Morgan, PhD
On the surface, this move, while abrupt, seemed sensible and even welcome, as the new community had the capacity to offer higher levels of care, relieving Richard and Alice Ann of tasks that had become increasingly difficult as more and more they faced a series of health challenges. But it also came with loss.
Over the next few weeks, they courageously faced numerous setbacks, including being separated for a time as Alice Ann transitioned to skilled nursing care before being able to join Richard in their new apartment. From afar we witnessed their faith, their love for each other, and their resiliency. We watched them carve a path forward that would include new, meaningful connections and continued purpose. Richard’s new “parish” became the staff and health care workers who found themselves working long hours in potentially harmful circumstances. Richard befriended, comforted, and encouraged them.
And then, on October 6, Alice Ann died unexpectedly. Still in shock and deeply grieving, within two weeks of losing Alice Ann and having to make yet another move where once again he would have to start over with people he didn’t know, Richard told us: “I project my life into the future as a widower in a new place.” And with a new role. He would offer assistance to the residents’ chaplain and make pastoral visits to other lonely and isolated residents. He would … until once again he was quarantined.
The mark of a resilient person is to recover and go forward in spite of adversities. Richard continues to see opportunities for new ministries, new things to learn and write about, and new ways to serve. This kind of old age resilience comes from a lifetime of living spiritually—and never stopping. These are the lessons of Light of Setting Suns. These are the lessons that allow us to live a life that will live on long after we are gone, a life that, in Richard’s words, will “cast shadows.”
“Our lives cast shadows as long as we live,” Richard writes in his latest book. … These are the memories of us in the minds and hearts of those we have loved and who have loved us. These shadows touch loved ones long after we are gone.”
We encourage you to order a copy and read Light of Setting Suns. It’s much like reading letters from a beloved and wise friend. It’s like that because that’s exactly what it is.
Don Wendorf and Lynda Everman are former caregivers and are active dementia advocates, volunteers, speakers, and authors, as well as dear friends of Richard Morgan.