ELDER MUSIC: The Singing Dead
Glad My Dating Days are Done

What are the Late Years For?

Last week, on a post titled What is Successful Ageing?, I wrote this about reflecting upon our lives:

”This takes quiet time, alone time. Make notes, write a memoir even if it's only for yourself. These years are the time to remember, recall and work out what it all has meant..”

A few days later, a TGB reader who I don't remember hearing from before emailed to say:

”What an idea for an eventful life!! Writing a memoir to myself. I think by 70, everybody has had an interesting life, as the obits always show. A personal memoir, though, is something I have never thought of.

“No legalities or deadlines, just a history of an interesting life. It does not have to be published, so it could be 'bare all'. Thank you for a great idea.”

After such a kind email, it would be nice if I could take credit for the idea but I first read about it decades ago. It is contained in psychologist Carl Jung's Seven Tasks of Aging which, in short form, are:

  1. Facing the reality of aging and dying
  2. Life review
  3. Defining life realistically
  4. Letting go of the ego
  5. Finding new rooting in the Self
  6. Determining the meaning of one’s life
  7. Rebirth – dying with life

In the earliest days of this blog, I was lucky to come across David Wolfe, a brilliant man, a visionary really, who wrote an important blog called Ageless Marketing. (He wrote a book with that title too)

You would not think that a blog from a consultant about how to market consumer products – even to people 50-plus - would be on my radar and generally you would be right. But David was different.

David didn't just study consumer behavior, he studied people's behavior and then applied what he learned to marketing. For me, it was his writing about how old people come to be and are different from younger people that kept me going back to his blog.

David WolfeDavid died in 2011 but the email note from that TGB reader reminded me of a series of posts David wrote in 2007, about Jung's seven tasks of ageing. I excerpted short points from each before linking to his full exposition of each task. Now, nine years later it is every bit as relevant so I am repeating them for you today.

Here is my introduction to the excerpts as I wrote it in 2007:

”David’s purpose in his series on Jung is to convince marketers that elders are not ordinary consumers. Our mindsets are different from midlife and unless marketing and advertising people understand these differences, their products will not sell.

“If you are reading Time Goes By, you are probably not a marketing professional, but that should not deter you from David’s series where you will find the clearest explanation of Jung’s tasks I’ve read anywhere among the general commentary.

"To nudge you toward doing so, below are links and short excerpts from David for each of the tasks.”

The title of each task links to the full version at David's blog.

Task No. 1: Facing the Reality of Aging and Dying
“Those who have successfully carried out Jung’s first task of aging have grown ageless in their outlook. Moreover, they have discovered that the last quarter of life is not as lousy an experience as they might have anticipated at age 40.

“One benefit of reaching this state is an almost adolescent feeling of being beyond harm’s way. Abraham Maslow saw this arising from a lifestyle in which “A day is a minute, a minute is a day.” It’s about living in the moment in a constructive way.”

Task No. 2: Life Review
“…the second of Carl Jung’s Seven Tasks of Aging – life review – can have a deeper effect on many people than nostalgia does, especially the older they are.

“Life review involves a critical examination of one’s life leading toward reconciliation between the sweet and the sour in life. It is a process for removing regret and anger from one’s worldview.”

Task No. 3: Defining Life Realistically
“In Winter, the primary developmental objective is to develop a sense of oneness with all and reconcile the sweet and the bitter in life. The main life focus is reconciliation – finding harmony and peace with ourselves, others and life in general.

“Winter’s mythic theme is irony, reflecting a persistent anticipation that the unexpected is always around the corner – though not necessarily in a negative sense. In fact, the unexpected often delights the older person as much as it does a child. Irony is particularly therapeutic in how it helps us cope with what we can’t change. And, it often provides us with a certain comedic twist to ease the burdens of old age.”

Task No. 4: Letting Go of the Ego
“Letting go of the ego enhances personal well being by taking one to new and higher levels of life satisfaction. Beyond that, research indicates that getting beyond the self to turn more attention to helping others improves the efficiency of the immune system. People who help others tend to live longer and healthier than those who stay wrapped up inside themselves.”

Task No. 5: Finding a New Rooting in the Self
“The worldviews of people in the first half of life are generally rooted in the external world. In contrast, the worldviews of people in the second half of life tend to be rooted less in the physical or mundane and increasingly in the nonphysical or metaphysical (or spiritual).”

Task No. 6: Determining the Meaning of One’s Life
“Life meaning among the young is framed by styles of appearance, language, material acquisitions, and social affiliations in the quest for a solid footing in the external world...

“However, the search for life meaning undergoes a major shift in the second half of life. Whatever people’s material success, many find less and less meaning from 'things.' So, they begin to look inward rather than to the outer world in their search for life meaning.”

Task No. 7: Rebirth – Dying With Life
“Jung’s last task of aging, 'Rebirth — dying with life,' is a familiar theme throughout the religious genre, but he was not thinking religion when he framed that task. Success in prosecuting this task leads to loss fear of life and death alike. Rebirth after dying with life transports a person into the timeless domains of an artist lost in his or her work or a child absorbed in play when living in the time of a delicious moment is all that matters.”

Ronni here again:

As you can see even from the short excerpts, these are no ordinary tasks. Rather than doing, they require being and a conscious contemplation of unconscious changes that take place within us.

Perhaps I came to studying and writing about old age in my own old age from reading Jung when I was young.


Deep thoughts on a Monday morning! I love the 'winter' metaphor, although I can't resist referring to Shelley's lines, "If winter's here, can spring be far behind?" —spring being the rebirth we experience when we have found peace and acceptance in our last years. This is an article to be bookmarked and reread over and over!

thank you

A thought-provoking piece. Much here to ponder.

At 65 years old, I was too busy and involved with living and the future to contemplate that my life would ever end. Then my husband got cancer and died.

After reading today's post, I realize I am now on that journey of Jung's tasks.

I wonder how many of you have noticed how much faster time appears to be flying by now that you're older.
Monday's become Thursdays in the blink of an eye, and the weekends are over before we know it.
This rapid transition of time for old folks might be something that marketers will want to take note of.
The older I get, the more impatient I become.
When I want something, I want it now. Not next week.
Vendors like Amazon seems to have noticed this by offering free next day delivery (for premium subscribers).

I'll be attending several sessions of a dialogue on 'Aging and Death' here at the coast. I'll take copies of this with me to trigger conversations that haven't been suggested before. Thank you Ronni.

I'm 68 years old. I have lived and worked in several countries mostly as an Oncology Nurse.
I love retirement ....it is one of the best times of life. I have overcome much in my life and hope to enjoy many more years. Friends have said they will be ready to go when the time comes. Maybe it's my dogged nature but I'm not feeling like that at all.
I'm starting to put plans in order to help the kids when I depart this world. Other than that
I dont dwell much on death or life after. Am I missing something?
I have learnt to enjoy my own company much more than I ever did before.

Thank you so much for this column! For me, at age 85, my main task seems to be that of LETTING GO of almost everything and if I do say so myself, I'm getting better at it every day.

I do not follow any organized religion. However, I find that the soul, at my age, supersedes everything else. It is needful, and contemplation is hardly possible if I am concerned with the trivia of life and its entertainments. We are exhorted by some to keep busy, keep making friends, etc. etc. Such busyness seems to me to be partly a wish to avoid what we need to do--which is think about our lives, make necessary amends (if any) and thank all who have passed our way, as well as (of course) make whatever plans we wish with respect to final illness(es) and death and its aftermath. Solitude is not a sin--far from it. And it's good to use it for writing, including writing remembrances or memoir. Toward the end of life I think it's natural to experience occasional loneliness. We can survive it!

For me, I don't think it's possible to eliminate all regret. I have some regrets and I don't regret them! They are the result of some deep, deep thinking. Failing in some ways while on this planet does not mean I or anyone else is "a failure." We are all alike in being human and thus quite fallible.

I th0ught that I had completed all the tasks necessary before dying, but I see that I need to do one more. I wrote my memoirs years ago, but they were not written with the purpose of a life revue, but with the desire to give a history of my life and times for my granddaughter's revue in years to come (should they so desire.)

Now I see that I should write another one just for me. What has my life meant? Will I be able to reconcile the sour and the sweet? They are so intertwined that I have never been able to separate them.

I have sometimes wondered what it is all about and why I am here. Will I ever know? Perhaps a life review will provide a few answers.

Thank you all so much for sharing your wisdom - and especially Barbara Young - and your remark on keeping busy. I'm 69 this year and I'm already tired of AARP reminding me to stay connected, wear high heels, get another job and stay busy! I was very very busy, employed, and connected for 55 years and now I'm going to embrace my essential introvert and explore these tasks in depth.

I believe these tasks come to awareness naturally when we're not distracted by the media's rules for how to age and not die.

Thank you. I am enjoying your blog so much. I have been writing one all this year since I'm turning 75. It's useful in thinking things through.

"Solitude is not a sin."

Great line, Barbara.

I love to park my car at the pier, turn on some satellite music, eat my lunch, contemplate life and write.

It's peaceful.

Also, Bruce has a point.

As 68-yr-old guy I find deep affiliation in these tasks. I can't count the hours I spend in finding the value of life now that I am on the edge of it. Deep within, is a small voice telling me to do something more, something I have not done before.

I don't know if I will ever find the answer, but somehow, that is worth finding about, or searching for. By this alone, I think my life has become interesting and exciting.

When I considered my own mortality, I found that examining my life as if I had already passed on helped me to make sure I would not leave this world before I had done everything I needed to do. So I:

--Had dinner with my daughters to give them my most important memorabilia and tell them how they had fulfilled my every dream.

--Made sure my legal papers were in order and would make my wife's life easier when the day comes.

--Gave the things that had made my life most pleasurable--books, cameras, fishing equipment--to people I knew would be able to enjoy them for a long time.

--Started a blog that is mostly to leave some type of explanation as to why I lived the way I did.

After doing this, I felt like a burden had been lifted and I can just put it on cruise control and enjoy the last part of my life.

I've read some of Karl Pillimer's writing based on his interviews with hundreds of older people who give their recommendations for living well. I note that Pillimer, based on recommendations from the 'elder experts' recommends writing a memoir or a life narrative. I didn't realize that this was based in Jung's work. Thanks for this post. Lots to think about.

Thank you for this post.
Lately I've been thinking a lot about the very things described in this process and wondering if it wasn't just a bit late in the journey for it. Better late than never!

Very thought-provoking. Thanks so much for writing this blog, Ronni, and providing a forum for interesting comments!

This writing is a good wake-up call. I read Jung during my younger years and he was a good guide then. Those years, of wild abandonment and purposeful self-searching, were possibly the most adventuresome and fulfilling times of my personal growth.

I look forward to addressing each of these now, at 73, , including the juxtaposition of "sour and sweet" that Darlene mentioned. From that earlier time, and with some serious reflection that will come from the pondering and writing, I hope there will be openings and feelings not yet realized. Or perhaps, not yet reconciled.

The comments are also excellent. Thanks for this post, Ronni.

Interesting that several bloggers noted a need to get on with writing a memoir. One way to get started (or move the project ahead) is to assemble appropriate blog posts, add segments to fill in blanks, and edit it into book form. That could be printed out for family members, just left online for posterity, or published. Self-publishing, the route I took, is not difficult or extremely expensive. Worked for me. Actually, enough books have sold to yield a small profit. Could be a convenient way to leave your story behind.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)