Conscious Aging: What’s Not So Hot

Lots of emails are flying around among my friends from college, as some of us prepare to attend our 50th reunion in early June. I’m touched by the deep bonds that are still there, even with women I’ve seen only a few times since graduation. A lot of honesty is coming through the emails, without preamble and without assuming we have to re-establish anything about the way we once communicated.

A friend who is coming admits to being a bit down, despite her interesting and successful life. She’s been to three funerals recently, and has other friends grappling with sudden and devastating diagnoses, like ALS. This is not something she thought much about when contemplating her own aging. The depth and irreversible nature of the losses is taking her aback.

I know very well what she is experiencing, having seen and felt things like this among my friendship group as well. I would add to my friend’s litany the death of a dear friend whose excruciating pain — controlled only with heavy doses of morphine that made her hallucinate about people being in the room trying to harm her — robbed her of everything that made her herself. I didn’t know that could happen to someone so strong and vital and clear about who she was. But it did.

There were losses when we were younger that also felt grave and irreversible, but something was different. Perhaps we were different: more resilient, less aware of the finiteness of our own timeline. Perhaps that’s what adds the extra charge, the added poignancy and sense of burden about knowledge seen and not wanted.

Your thoughts?


6 thoughts on “Conscious Aging: What’s Not So Hot

  1. When I was young, death seemed to mostly happen to older people. Now that we are “old” and major illnesses and death are happening to our peer group, it takes on a greater meaning and reality. It could be me.

  2. When I was younger, it was rare to experience a death. I remember 2 of elementary school peers whose father’s died. I was 26 when my first Grandmother died and 32 when the other one died..Now, I am experiencing death too often. I do think “it’s the age.” My Dad died 3 years ago. My 90 year old mother has lost all of her peers, both family and friends. Her brother died 2 years ago and her sister last year. She is the sole survivor. She’s not a “funeral / cemetery” person. A friend of hers for over 50 years died. She asked me to attend the wake; she doesn’t want to go. She’s been to my Dad’s grave only once.

    Is there such a think as “too much death”? I believe there is. In the past year, I’ve had 6 close relatives / friends die. Some of a long illness and 3 from cancer. People in their 80s and 90s probably experience too much death.

    So, what does the death that surrounds us do? It confirms our own mortality, which can be distressing. It also reinforces that we should make the most of what life we have. Some get depressed and stop enjoying what they have left. Other go forward with joy and vigor, doing things that they want to do, e.g. taking that cruise that’s been on a bucket list, healing relationships with people that have been estranged, exploring activities that may been a dream: such as painting and ballroom dancing. I have chosen the latter. I know life is short and I want to experience joy and fun!

  3. The last two funerals I have attended have been for people younger than me. One was the 30 year daughter of a friend with no previous history of seizures but she had a fatal one. The other was a 62 year woman old who died of pancreatic cancer. This particular women lived 5 years with the cancer and had completed her doctorate in nursing during that time receiving her degree in 2014.

    These last two experiences reinforce my desire to enjoy each new experience and make the most of my time. I have been given more time than either of these woman and I don’t want to waste it.

  4. for Phyllis: Yes, I think that awareness of “this could be me” makes death loom so large at this age.

  5. for Katie: I do think death is cumulative. I recall the look of shock on my mother’s face when we pulled out the list from her 85th birthday to plan the 90th, and all of her friends and age peers were dead. We filled in with cousins and such, but the absence of her age group was glaring.

  6. for Joyce: I like that sense of treating as precious the time that each of us is given. There’s no rhyme nor reason nor fairness to it, but you and I are here today, and for that we get to give it our best.

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