Wednesday, 07 November 2007
On Fear of Aging and Death
It is astonishing and gratifying that readers take the words I write and run with them in new directions in the comments. It has been particularly compelling in the past few days. Monday’s post evolved from comments on Friday’s post and today, I am following on from some comments on Monday’s post.
There are two themes that caught my attention Monday. Let’s start today with fear of aging and death, and continue tomorrow with employment and retirement fears. From the comments:
“I just cannot accept my own mortality with anything less than a nagging fear right now.
- - Cowtown Pattie of Texas Trifles
“I for one am having a dreadful time with this whole aging thing - the process is not a smooth as I'd like it to be.”
- - Dee
Although no one can predict when, I think it is normal for each of us, as the years go by, to make peace with these fears. Time moves forward relentlessly and with it the inevitable realizations that we too will not stay young until the end of our days, nor be anointed the single immortal. But it takes some work getting there, along with just letting it happen.
A lot of people (boomers?) seem to be convinced that if they lift one more weight or run one more mile, they will never get old. Even if you don’t succumb to cosmetic surgery or spend too much money on expensive anti-aging creams that don’t work, there comes a day, I think, when it’s too much effort any longer to keep up the pretense.
You realize that you do get tired more easily than your younger friends or something inside compels you to skip the daily workout in favor of a good book or those sexy high-heeled shoes hurt too much to wear today. That, my friends, is the beginning of accepting your age.
But in an ageist culture such as ours, there is still a lot – maybe years – of negotiation with yourself; the days you have the energy to prance around in those fabulous Jimmy Choos versus the mornings the mirror tells you that your makeup or hair color is beginning to look weird – it needs toning down.
For a long time, particularly through our fifties, we live with a foot in each world – not young anymore, but not old either. It’s not a comfortable place to be. The discomfort will pass – when it becomes all right to be old - each in our own time. But our profoundly youth-centric culture doesn't help.
When I first understood that I would die someday – was I eight or nine or ten then? – I was horrified. The thought kept me awake at night lying in bed while my heart pounded so hard it thumped the sheet above my chest as I tried to wrap my mind around the idea that I would not be here anymore.
At 21, having lived many of those fearful, dark nights of the soul, I gave myself permission to believe that I was the one immortal (too bad for the rest of you) and even knowing I was lying to myself, it carried me for many years. It didn’t stop the truth from suddenly clutching at my throat now and then when some incident brought the magnitude of not-being home to me. But I got by for a long time with that pretense.
[Whoever said it is not possible to hold two conflicting beliefs in your mind at once is full of it.]
Decades later, sometime after I started studying aging in earnest in 1996, I began to relax into my age and with it came an acceptance of my death. I didn’t do anything to make that happen so I can’t take credit for it. I just noticed that my heart didn’t race with fear anymore in contemplating my death. I don’t know what changed, but a need to stop being afraid contributed.
Darlene, who does not keep a blog but comments regularly around the blogosphere and is 82 years old, said this on Monday’s post:
“I wonder if a declining attitude about worldly things is a way of withdrawing from them in preparation for the inevitable. I'm not there yet, but I sense a feeling of ennui at times.”
Although she has more than 15 years of living on me, I think I know a little of what Darlene means about the “ennui”, for when I am tired or when too many picky little things the outside world constantly requires of us pile up, I feel myself reach into the future for the time when I will be relieved of worldly concerns.
None of this is to say that should a future medical test doom me to a death sentence within weeks or months, as happened to my mother, that the paralyzing fear of those childhood nights will not return. There is no way to know until then if in all this blather I’m not whistling past the graveyard (as it were).
A TGB EXTRA
In a column about fake news on Tuesday in the Los Angeles Times, Jonah Goldberg had this to say about the people who watch different kinds of news programs:
“Indeed, while the network news broadcasts are sustained by the consumers of denture cream, adult diapers and pharmacological marital aides, it’s The Daily Show and The Colbert Report that have a grip on the hip, iPhone crowd.”
Wouldn’t “old consumers” or “elder consumers” or even "senior consumers" have done the job? One wonders why Mr. Goldberg needs to gratuitously bash elders and if an equivalent slur against blacks or women would have made it past LA Times editors.
If you’re inclined to express your opinion about this ageist bigotry to Mr. Goldberg, his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. The standards and practices department at the paper can be contacted at email@example.com.
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, kenju wishes she had been old enough to take on a bully at Summer Camp.]